As part of its strategy to field top guns in Punjab, the Congress upped the stakes by bringing more senior leaders in the poll fray.
In its sixth list announced on Monday, the leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly, Sunil Jakhar, was named the candidate from Ferozepur. Two other sitting MLAs, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot and Joginder Singh Panjgrain, were announced for Fatehgarh Sahib and Faridkot seats, respectively.
The party has factored in the popularity as all three MLAs, who are considered grassroot leaders with a track record at clinching seats in successive polls. Jakhar, 60, is a three-time sitting MLA from Abohar, now in Fazilka district. First elected in 2002, he was a chief parliamentary secretary in the then Captain Amarinder Singh government. He got re-elected in 2007 and then in 2012.
Panjgrain, a protege of Capt Amarinder Singh, had successfully contested his first assembly election in 2007 defeating Badal loyalist and its Dalit face Gurdev Badal from the then Panjgrain assembly constituency. He once again defeated Gurdev Badal in the 2012 assembly polls from Jaito that was re-carved from the erstwhile Panjgrain assembly segment during delimitation.
Dharamsot, an old warhorse and four-time MLA, replaces MP Sukhdev Singh Libra in Fatehgarh Sahib. A former Akali leader, Libra had switched loyalties to the Congress before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. An aging Libra (81) was being viewed as out of the race for tickets and Dr Amar Singh, a retired IAS officer, being considered a strong contender owing to backing of senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh. Dharamsot, who represents the reserved assembly segment of Nabha, will take on real estate baron Kulwant Singh of the Shiromani Akali Dal.
The Congress strategy to pitch Jakhar and Panjgrain is to make most of the anti-incumbency against the sitting Akali MPs. While Jakhar, a two-time MLA from Abohar, would take on Akali MP Sher Singh Ghubaya in Ferozepur, Joginder Singh has been pitched against Akali MP Paramjit Kaur Gulshan.
Jakhar's task is cut out. Ferozepur in the last decade has turned an Akali bastion electing Zora Singh Mann and Ghubaya in 2004 and 2009, respectively. In the decade before it, it had twice returned Bahujan Samaj Party candidates. Jakhar was considered as a consensus candidate from Ferozepur, which was witnessing a bitter clamour for tickets among sitting MLAs -- Rana Gurmeet Sodhi, Raja Warring and the faction represented by Ferozepur (urban) MLA Parminder Pinky. Former MP Jagmeet Brar too was eyeing the ticket to revive his political innings.
The knives are already out. MLA Sodhi, who was keen to contest the seat, openly expressed his disappointment at Jakhar's candidature. Sodhi told HT that his supporters not only in Guru Harsahai but in other assembly segments in Ferozepur constituency also were "very upset" for dropping his name. He said he had taken Jakhar into confidence while applying for the ticket from Ferozepur.
However, Jakhar said he would tackle any resentment prevailing among his party colleagues. "I am thankful to Congress president Sonia Gandhi for reposing faith in me," he said. On Sodhi, he said he was with him in Delhi when his candidature was decided and announced.
Santosh Choudhary to make way for Kaypee in Hoshiarpur?
There seem to be more surprises in store in the Congress poll kitty. The party is contemplating to swap the seat of Jalandhar MP Mohinder Singh Kaypee to Hoshiarpur and replace sitting Congress MP, union minister Santosh Chaudhary, both of whom are facing anti-incumbency in their areas. The high command may bring former minister Chaudhary Santokh Singh, another prominent Dalit face, from the reserved seat of Jalandhar.