The Congress was choosing its candidates for Punjab polls in all seriousness. There were multiple surveys over the past one year and marathon meetings of the screening panel and central election committee since the beginning of December. But the game of musical chairs is still not over, as the party changed its candidates on four seats as it declared its fifth list on Monday.
This came even as state unit chief Capt Amarinder Singh said earlier in the day that no candidates would be changed.
Forget rebels, its the “chosen” ones who are willingly giving up their claims. The party had declared realtor Tejinder Bittu as its candidate from Jalandhar North on Tuesday. He was a wild card entry as he had applied for Jalandhar Cantt and Central seats but not North. On Friday, the Congress dumped Bittu, an urban Sikh, for a Hindu face, Raj Kumar Gupta.
But, even as the 80-year-old former MLA was to file his nomination papers on Tuesday, the party announced a son of almost-rebel Avtar Henry, the two-time MLA who has lost his vote over dual citizenship, as its candidate. Formally, the son is called Avtar Singh Sanghera (Junior), but essentially he is Avtar Henry Jr!
Party sources said Gupta voluntarily opted out as he was “too old” to contest. It’s not the first time that Gupta has faced such an embarrassing situation. In 2012 as well, Gupta was announced as the party candidate from Jalandhar Central but the ticket was later given to Rajinder Beri.
Another change is in Phillaur, where the party had announced Karamjit Chaudhary, wife of Jalandhar MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary, as its candidate. But Karamjit was not keeping well and requested the high command to nominate their son, Vikramjit Singh Chaudhary, who was formally given the ticket on Monday. Vikramjit and Amarinder had locked horns over the entry of former Akali minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur to the Congress. Sarwan Singh Phillaur too had staked claim to the seat. The ego battle made Karamjit the consensus candidate, but the transition from mother to son was rather seamless.
In case of Bholath, there had been a tossing of turbans between the candidate, Gurbinder Atwal, and party rebels. Atwal fled the ground, and the party on Monday named Ranjit Singh as the new candidate.
And what are party’s central observers doing? Former Delhi minister Kiran Walia attended the show of strength of Henry after he had turned rebel and termed it as “unprecedented love” of the people. Henry had lost the last election.
The nominee for Jagroan, Geja Ram, who was brought in as a Valmiki face, too has been dumped to bring in former MLA Malkit Singh Dakha.
“What can be messier and funnier than this?” wondered a former minister. “The party is giving tickets like chocolates.”