Unlike previous elections in Punjab, the Congress this time succeeded in taming the rebels who were threatening to play the spoiler once again.
The party’s chances of regaining power from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine in the 2012 assembly elections were marred by 22 rebel candidates.
In the end, the Congress managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of the victory with the SAD-BJP alliance creating history. Punjab had been witnessing cyclic change since 1966 when it was re-organised along the linguistic formula. This time, Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh desperately wanted to avoid that situation and formulated a strategy to rein in the 34 rebels who had filed nomination papers from different constituencies.
It was decided that Amarinder along with Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel will personally make phone calls to some of them while reaching out to others through their “mentors” in the organisation.
Congress managers had also identified the leaders who had recommended names of some of the rebels for tickets and given the task of ensuring their withdrawal from the contest.
The exercise was a success as 27 rebels withdrew their nomination in support of the Congress’ official candidates. Though seven rebels remained in the fray, the Congress’ internal assessment suggested these dissidents were not in a position to hurt the party’s chances. The Congress leaders also persuaded former legislator from Amritsar East Jasbir Singh Dimpa to campaign Navjot Singh Sidhu.