The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on Thursday decided to field its young Dakha MLA Manpreet Singh Ayali from the Ludhiana Lok Sabha seat in what is going to be a multi-cornered and high-stake battle of the ballot.
Perceived to be a performer and having a capacity for aggression due to his muscle and money power, Ayali, 39, enjoys the patronage of revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, the vital factor which apparently prompted SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal to field this first-time MLA to wrest the seat from the Congress which the incumbent Manish Tewari had won by 1,13,706 votes.
The move to announce its Ludhiana nominee comes just two days before the BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi's February 23 Jagraon rally, which will be used by the SAD-BJP as a launching pad for the Lok Sabha campaign. On Tuesday, the SAD had announced candidates for six of the 13 parliamentary seats.
With Ayali entering into the fray, it is in the Ludhiana seat that the stakes are going to be very high for the SAD where Harvinder Singh Phoolka - fielded by Aam Aadmi Party as its candidate for the Ludhiana Lok Sabha seat - has already started giving anxious moments to SAD chief Sukhbir Badal.
What may further queer the pitch for the Akali Dal is the formidable presence of Bains brothers -- independent MLAs Balwinder Singh Bains and younger brother Simarjit Singh Bains -- who wanted to contest on the SAD ticket from Ludhiana. In all probability, either one of the Bains brothers may contest or they will field a candidate with the primary objective of spoiling the SAD nominee's chances.
The hostilities between Ayali and Bains brothers are well known in political circles. The strength of Bains brothers lies in their iron-like grip in Ludhiana. For an example, both the brothers together polled 1,00,657 votes in the 2012 assembly elections. While Balwinder had defeated the SAD nominee by 32,233 votes from Ludhiana (south), Simarjit had trounced SAD heavyweight Hira Singh Gabria by 28,503 votes from Atam Nagar seat.
These two independent MLAs are associate members of the SAD in the Vidhan Sabha and denial of Lok Sabha ticket to them by Sukhbir Badal is set to cause only trouble for the SAD.
As per political observers, the entry of Phoolka, who has championed the cause of anti-Sikh riot victims and the SAD also fielding a Sikh candidate, it looks like an advantage for sitting Congress MP Manish Tewari. And if the Bains brothers also jump into the fray, it could be an uphill task for the SAD.
Having defeated sitting Congress MLA Jassi Khangura in the last assembly polls by 16,388 votes, the strength of Ayali also lies in having deep pockets besides a good record in grass-roots politics. In 2008, he was unanimously elected chairman, Zila Parishad, and won the 'Best Zila Parishad National Award' for the outstanding performance in 2013.
The SAD nominee elbows out from the race for ticket other contenders such as the Hindu face and Mansa MLA Prem Mittal, who had served Ludhiana as deputy/senior deputy mayor for years, and Kamal Oswal, the managing director of Nahar Group of Companies and industrial adviser to the Punjab chief minister.
SAD list so far
The Akali Dal is in the process of declaring its candidates from Ferozepur, Faridkot and Patiala Lok Sabha seats. The party has declared candidates from Bathinda (Harsimrat Kaur Badal); Sangrur (Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa); Anandpur Sahib (Prem Singh Chandumajra); Fatehgarh Sahib (Kulwant Singh); Khadoor Sahib (Ranjit Singh Brahmpura), Jalandhar (Pawan Kumar Tinu, sitting MLA) and Ludhiana (Manpreet Singh Ayali, sitting MLA).