After putting in motion the strategy to field its top guns for the Lok Sabha polls in Punjab, the Congress upped the stakes further by bringing in more senior leaders into the fray. In its sixth list announced on Monday, leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly, three-time Abohar MLA Sunil Jakhar, was named the candidate from Ferozepur. Sadhu Singh Dharamsot and Joginder Singh Panjgrain, both sitting MLAs, would contest from Fatehgarh Sahib and Faridkot, respectively.
The party has factored in their popularity as these three MLAs are considered to be grassroots leaders with a track record of clinching successive polls. Jakhar, 60, was first elected MLA in 2002, and was eventually elevated to the post of leader of opposition after his third victory in 2012. His family legacy — father Balram Jakhar remained union minister and LS speaker — helps too, as Ferozepur is effectively his home turf, though he had lost the 1996 LS poll from there.
Panjgrain, a protégé of Capt Amarinder Singh, successfully contested his first assembly election in 2007 defeating Badal loyalist and the SAD’s Dalit face Gurdev Badal from the then Panjgrain assembly constituency. He again defeated Gurdev in 2012 from Jaitu.
As for Nabha MLA Dharamsot, he replaces sitting MP Sukhdev Singh Libra in Fatehgarh Sahib. A former Akali leader, Libra had switched loyalties and won the 2009 LS poll on a Congress ticket. An aging Libra, 81, was being viewed as out of the race, and Dr Amar Singh, a retired IAS officer, was being considered a strong contender.
Dharamsot will take on real estate baron Kulwant Singh of the SAD.
The Congress strategy to pitch Jakhar and Panjgrain is to make the most of anti-incumbency against sitting Akali MPs. Jakhar would take on SAD’s Sher Singh Ghubaya, Panjgrain faces another SAD MP, Paramjit Kaur Gulshan.
Jakhar’s task is cut out, particularly, as Ferozepur for the past many years had turned an Akali bastion electing Zora Singh Mann (1998, 1999 and 2004) and Ghubaya in 2009, respectively. In 1996, Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Mohan Singh Fallianwala won in 1996 when Sunil Jakhar had contested.
Though Jakhar was considered a consensus candidate, Ferozepur was witnessing a clamour for the ticket among sitting MLAs Rana Gurmeet Sodhi, Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and even former MP Jagmeet Brar, besides a faction of Ferozepur Urban MLA Parminder Singh Pinky.
Guru Har Sahai MLA Rana Sodhi did openly express disappointment at Jakhar’s candidature and told HT that his supporters “not only in Guru Har Sahai” but in other assembly segments in Ferozepur parliamentary constituency, too, were “very upset”. He said he had taken Jakhar into confidence while applying for the ticket from Ferozepur.
However, Jakhar said he would tackle any resentment among his party colleagues. “I am thankful to Congress president Sonia Gandhi for reposing faith in me,” he said. On Sodhi, he said Sodhi was with him in Delhi when his candidature was decided and announced.
MINISTER SANTOSH CHOUDHARY TO MAKE WAY FOR KAYPEE?
There seem to be more surprises in store in the Congress poll kitty. The party is contemplating shifting Jalandhar MP Mohinder Singh Kaypee to Hoshiarpur and replace sitting Congress MP and union minister Santosh Chowdhary, both of whom are facing anti-incumbency in their current segments. The high command may bring former minister Chaudhary Santokh Singh, another prominent Dalit face, from the reserved seat of Jalandhar.