Will hill alliance steady Amarinder's rocking political boat?

Shimla, Aug 24 (IANS) Rocking in rough political waters, former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh's wobbly boat may have found an anchor via his family: Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.

The chief minister's youngest daughter, Aprajita Singh, has got engaged to Angad Singh, the grandson of the erstwhile Patiala royalty's Amarinder Singh, who is out of Punjab politics, literally. The low-key engagement ceremony took place in New Delhi the previous Sunday.

The family alliance comes at a time when senior Amarinder Singh's position in the Punjab politics is rickety, a senior Congress leader told IANS. The party reins were taken away from him only recently after the Congress faced a series of defeats, beginning with the assembly polls last year. As of now, Partap Singh Bajwa is the state party chief.

On the other hand, the position of Virbhadra Singh, 78, popularly known as 'Raja Saab' as he was born into the erstwhile princely state of Bushahr, in the Congress has been growing stronger by the day. The recently concluded Mandi parliamentary byelection and the National Student Union of India's creditable performance in the students' union elections have further exalted his status, he said.

The NSUI made impressive gains in Kangra, the state's biggest district, by winning the elections in a majority of the major colleges, including Himachal Pradesh University Regional Centre in Dharamsala.

"The Raja's stature in the party will definitely help the Maharaja's sinking fortunes in the party," a senior leader said.

In Congress circles, Amarinder Singh is known for his "royal ways" but for 'Raja Saab' he has no qualms about folding his hands and bowing his head before the commoners when it comes to seeking votes, he said.

Family sources said Aprajita Singh, 26, who is pursuing a textile designing course in Britain, knows Angad Singh, the son of Amarinder Singh's daughter Jai Inder Kaur, since her school days. The would-be bridegroom is studying for an MBA at Cambridge University.

"Angad was a class senior to Aprajita in Lawrence School at Sanawar. By next year they are going to tie a nuptial knot," said a family member. He said the engagement ceremony was attended by family members only. But Amarinder Singh gave it a miss as he was out of the country.

Family sources said while Angad, whose father Gurpal Singh is a known industrialist, is totally away from the political glare, Aprajita has actively campaigned for her mother Pratibha Singh during the Mandi parliamentary byelection.

Amarinder Singh has a long association with the hill state. He owns two ancestral orchards - one at Kandyali near Narkanda, some 60 km from state capital Shimla, and another at Dochi near Chail in Solan district. At both places he is often seen holidaying along with his friends Aroosa Alam, a Pakistani journalist and socialite.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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