Betting hard for Badal bahu in Bhatinda May 06, 2009 As campaigning closed on Tuesday evening for the four Punjab constituencies of Bhatinda, Patiala, Sangrur and Ferozepur (out of a total of 13 constituencies in the state) that will vote on May 7 in the fourth phase of the Lok Sabha election, there was one question on everyone's lips: Who is going to win the battle royale in Bhatinda? Nothing else matters in Punjab right now. A newly confident Rahul Gandhi [Images], having disarmed the fickle Delhi [Images] media with his press conference on Tuesday morning, will now travel to Anandpur Sahib to rally for his Youth Congress comrade Ravneet Singh Bittu on May 9, but let's postpone that discussion for now. As for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images], dubbed 'Sher-e-Punjab' by none other than Rahul recently and taken up with such abandon by the rest of the state, there is the rally for his Congress candidate O P Soni on May 11 in Amritsar [Images]. That is another of Punjab's must-watch contests, and not only because the Bharatiya Janata Party's [Images] Navjot Singh Sidhu has been gifting the gab to both journalists and regional comedy television for some time now. Bhatinda is where all the action is right now, between Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal, which is in alliance with the BJP in the state, and Raninder Singh, only son of the former maharaja of Patiala Captain Amarinder Singh. Harsimrat, of course, is the wife of Sukhbir Badal, Punjab's deputy chief minister, and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's daughter-in-law. Her brother Bikramjit Singh is already a powerful minister in the Badal government. The Badal family, which denies accusations of dynasty and nepotism, clearly hope that Harsimrat will join the family in running the state. Another former Patiala royal, in fact, is also slugging it out in this soaring heat and that is Amarinder Singh's wife and Congress candidate Preneet Kaur. She is fighting Prem Singh Chandumajra of the SAD for the Patiala seat. The sitting MP is expected to have an edge. The battle for Bhatinda has gripped the imagination of Punjab, and according to the bookies there it's going to be close, really close, and that the odds indeed favour the Badal bahu (daughter-in-law). According to the rather complicated system of betting adopted by Punjab's bookies, the odds are 70-80 in favour of Harsimrat Kaur. That is, if you bet Rs 10,000 on Harsimrat and if she wins, you will get back Rs 17,000. But if you bet Rs 8,000 on Raninder Singh and if he wins, then you will get back Rs 18,000. That bit of complicated mathematics could devastate the charming and highly articulate maharaja of Patiala, not only because Raninder is Amarinder Singh's only son, but also because the young man is believed to have been the architect behind the 2007 assembly election when the Congress won a majority of seats in the south Punjab Malwa region. The party was routed in the other two regions, Majha and Doaba, of course, by the SAD-BJP combination. But here is another bit of news that is so redolent of Punjab, indicating that the balance of power is as much part of its bloodline as is the double crop of golden wheat and mustard fields and several flowing rivers. This is that the Dera Sacha Sauda, a spiritual organisation that is actually based in nearby Haryana but has an estimated 10 million followers in the Punjabi-speaking heartland, issued a call over the weekend that voters must vote according to their 'conscience' or local 'consensus.' A number of Punjabis are taking that to mean that because the Badals are in power in Punjab, they could support the Badal daughter-in-law. On the other hand, the Patiala royal family has been around for a few centuries and feudal loyalties don't disappear so easily. So, here is how the voters have come to interpret the Dera advice: Let us vote for Harsimrat in Bhatinda and for the maharani in Patiala. Meanwhile, it doesn't matter at all to Patiala's voters whether Amarinder Singh's estrangement with his wife is present or permanent. In matters of politics, which are far more essential than matters of the heart, the person who will represent you in the Lok Sabha is expected to put pressure on the central government to ease prices of seeds, ensure a better minimum support price for cotton, rice and wheat and generally ensure safety and security for the border areas which are so close to Pakistan. Or as Prabhjot Singh, chief of bureau of the respected The Tribune newspaper in the state put it: "Punjab is a strange state. People talk about anti-incumbency and I suppose that is what it is in Punjab too. Here, since the state was formed in 1966, the people have always voted for the other party in every successive election." Call it Punjab's contrarian spirit or its enterprising nature, always seeking a better tomorrow. The Bhatinda Lok Sabha election is a true case in point.