The Congress finally announced Pawan Bansal as its candidate for the Chandigarh parliamentary elections, ending the six-day suspense and jitters for the four-time Lok Sabha MP struggling to wash the taint of the railway bribery scandal.
Though the party’s central election committee on March 7 cleared Bansal’s name, no list was announced. The Congress had released its first list of 194 candidates on March 8. Bansal was nowhere there too. But, finally the list released on Thursday found Bansal’s name in it.
The “tried-and-tested” MP’s supporters though came to his residence, did not distribute sweets this time when his candidature was finally announced. They had already burst crackers and distributed sweets when Bansal’s name was cleared.
Bansal, whose tenure as the railway minister was marred by the railway bribery scandal scam in May 2013, will contest the seat for the seventh time. However, Bansal still awaits a strong opponent. The BJP’s central election committee is expected to decide its candidate on March 15. Bansal’s bete noire BJP leader Satya Pal Jain, party’s Chandigarh chief Sanjay Tandon, and former union minister Harmohan Dhawan are among the frontrunners for the BJP ticket.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) replaced Savita Bhatti, widow of satirist Jaspal Bhatti, with actor and social worker Gul Panag on Thursday.
Jannat Jahan, whose husband Hafiz Anwar-ul-Haq contested in 2009 and got 11,549 votes, is the Bahujan Samaj Party’s nominee.
The MP is believed to have got an indication of his candidature being cleared about three weeks ago as he started leading padyatras in most parts of the city, stepping up campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls in the past few days.
A lawyer-turned-politician, Bansal had scored a smooth electoral hat-trick in 2009, where he defeated BJP’s Satya Pal Jain by nearly 58,000 votes and emerged as a key member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s team. He first handled parliamentary affairs and then the railways – the first Congressman to get the ministry in 17 years – in October 2012. Considered close to the PM, Bansal had everything going for him, with no serious challenge from the rival BJP or within his party till the railway bribery scam erupted.
Giving a sigh of relief to Bansal on March 10, a special court in Delhi rejected a plea seeking further direction to probe the role Bansal in the railway bribery case. Bansal, who resigned as the railway minister in May last year after the case came to light, has been arrayed as a prosecution witness by the CBI in its chargesheet filed last year.
Bansal to bank on rural votes
It looks AAP candidate Gul Panag is likely to cut into urban and youth vote in the city, while Bansal will bank yet again on his rural base. In the recent panchayat elections in UT, the Congress retained its hold, but dismantling Colony No. 5, where more than 1.5 lakh people were residing, would hit him as some were rehabilitated, while most of them remain without houses. In 2012 MC elections, the Congress has won 12 seats, while the BJP won 11 seats out of total 26.
Congress move hypocritical: BJP
President of city unit of BJP Sanjay Tandon said, “The Congress move of allotting ticket to Bansal only shows the hypocrisy of the party whose leaders are involved in various scams and other criminal cases. It was after registration of the case by the CBI that Bansal was forced to resign from the post of union railway minister, bringing disrepute to the country as a whole and Chandigarh and its people in particular.”