The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), junior partner of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab's ruling combine, may have won 19 of the 23 seats it contested in the 117-strong assembly last year, but the Lok Sabha elections due in 2014 look set to be a tough battle for the saffron brigade in the agrarian state.
On all three parliamentary constituencies (of the 13 in the state) -- Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur -- that fall in the BJP's share as per the coalition arrangement with the Akalis, the party's candidates have started preparing ground.
Amid Gujarat CM Narendra Modi being given charge of the BJP's poll campaign formally, there's also talk that the Congress-led UPA may pull back the elections from the scheduled May 2014 to November this year.
In 2009, BJP had lost two, while cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu completed a hat-trick in Amritsar. However, Sidhu has lately been making things difficult for himself, as he is not in touch with the constituency for the past one year. A number of BJP leaders are seen as Sidhu's replacement.
Former chairman of the Amritsar improvement trust, Rajinder Mohan Singh Chinna, who is a staunch opponent of Sidhu, is a contender. He was made state vice- president after Kamal Sharma took over as state BJP president. Sources say senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, may throw his hat in the ring. Jaitley, who has roots in Punjab, has been frequenting Amritsar.
Former cabinet minister Laxmi Kanta Chawla, who was recently elevated to the rank of national vice-president, is also seen as a candidate. She had not contested the assembly polls.
In Gurdaspur, former MP and actor Vinod Khanna, who lost the previous election by a thin margin to current Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa, is looking to make a comeback. He remained MP for three consecutive terms. Here, Swarn Salaria is also working hard to secure the ticket.
As for Hoshiarpur, MLA Som Parkash, who lost the previous election to Congress's Santosh Chaudhary, sees hope. Former Punjab Khadi board chairman Vijay Sampla, a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) activist and Scheduled Caste leader, is also working hard in the area for the past 12 years.
Kamal Sharma remains confident: "With Modi as campaign coordinator, we (SAD-BJP) will win all 13 seats in Punjab." As for the ticket distribution, the party has "started the exercise to choose the most suitable candidates in all three constituencies".
Sources say the SAD is seeking to swap Amritsar constituency with Jalandhar in the seat-sharing agreement. Though observers believe the BJP would never give up Amritsar seat easily, SAD's cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia is the man behind the effort, it is learnt.
Kirron Kher from Chandigarh?
The BJP is looking for a new face for contesting from Chandigarh seat - the lone seat in the UT-cum-capital - where Satya Pal Jain has lost thrice in a row to Congress's 'tainted' former rail minister Pawan Bansal. Actor Kirron Kher -- a Punjabi known for her typical boisterous, loud mother or auntie roles -- is said to be in line as Bansal seems weak after his nephew was arrested taking Rs 90-lakh bribe for a lucrative post in the railways.