SAD set ticket ball rolling, but Cong hit back with surprises | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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SAD set ticket ball rolling, but Cong hit back with surprises

In an election, even the best of plans can go awry. That’s the lesson the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has to contend with as its ticketing strategy for 10 of the 13 Lok Sabha seats it is contesting in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hasn’t really gone according to the script.

chandigarh Updated: Mar 27, 2014 19:03 IST
Pawan Sharma

In an election, even the best of plans can go awry. That’s the lesson the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has to contend with as its ticketing strategy for 10 of the 13 Lok Sabha seats it is contesting in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hasn’t really gone according to the script.

Known for his micro poll management, SAD president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal set the ball rolling by naming six candidates more than a fortnight before the Election Commission announced the poll schedule. The move lent a headstart to the Akali campaign, further bolstered by the Jagraon rally addressed by BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on February 23.

All this while, the main challenger, the Congress, was still grappling with internal dissensions. What added to the Congress’ woes were a spate of defections, engineered by Sukhbir, to the Akali fold. The front-ranking Congress leaders, including state party chief and Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa, gave enough signals on their wariness to contest.

So gung-ho, in fact, was the Akali camp that it succeeded in convincing the saffron party to field its Rajya Sabha stalwart Arun Jaitley to take his debut electoral plunge from the “safe seat of Amritsar”.

However, the SAD’s first-off-the-blocks gambit hasn’t gone in line with the script. Instead of creating ‘shock and awe’ in the Congress camp, the SAD rank and file has been stunned by the Congress’ game-changer moves of sending its top guns such as Capt Amarinder Singh to take on BJP stalwart Jaitley in Amritsar and Ambika Soni to challenge Prem Singh Chandumajra in Anandpur Sahib.

With the Congress changing its strategy, the SAD-BJP alliance seems to be on the backfoot. Visibly, there is a spring in the Congress step.

As the Congress preferred to bank on its top leaders, the BJP finally pitted its former three-time MP Vinod Khanna from Gurdaspur. From the Hoshiarpur (reserved) seat, the party picked the low-profile Vijay Kumar Sampla.

AKALI DAL’S GAME

At the core of Akali Dal’s anxiety of hitting the poll pitch first has been the humiliating experience of 2009, when the party had won four seats — Khadoor Sahib, Faridkot, Ferozepur and Bathinda — despite being barely two years old in power in Punjab after dethroning then Congress regime in February 2007.

Having retained power in the January 2012 assembly elections, the SAD-BJP coalition regime is again about two years old as it braces itself for what is going to be a make-or-break election for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), of which the SAD is a vital ally.

In this backdrop, the SAD has retained three sitting MPs: Harsimrat Kaur Badal (Bathinda), Sher Singh Ghubaya (Ferozepur) and Paramjit Kaur Gulshan (Faridkot, reserved), while in view of the multi-layered drug scandal’s looming shadow, the SAD dropped its fourth sitting MP, Rattan Singh Ajnala (Khadoor Sahib).

By dropping Ajnala, the SAD has attempted to overcome anti-incumbency as well and begin the innings on a clean slate by fielding Majha veteran and Parkash Singh Badal loyalist Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, who had been sulking and feeling sidelined after having lost in the 2012 assembly elections.

BANKING ON FRESH FACES

The 2009 reverses dictated the decision of the SAD to field sitting MLAs in Ludhiana and Jalandhar (reserved). The SAD opted for young Manpreet Singh Ayali due to his deep pockets and aggressive personality. In Ludhiana, the stakes are very high for Sukhbir Badal, whose might is being challenged by the pugnacious Bains brothers. The estranged Akali leader and independent MLA Simarjit Singh Bains is likely to queer the pitch for the SAD by contesting as Independent.

In Jalandhar, the SAD picked up another young face, chief parliamentary secretary Pawan Kumar Tinu with ease due to his own standing among the Scheduled Caste electorate and the SAD-BJP having considerable sway in this reserved seat.

The candidature of land dealer Kulwant Singh from Fatehgarh Sahib (reserved) was a surprise move, seemingly taken keeping in view that Kulwant, despite having no political experience, could influence voters with his matchless money power.

However, in Patiala, behind the candidature of turncoat Deepinder Singh Dhillon is the SAD’s ambitious move of giving a sound hammering at the traditional citadel of the Patiala royals. Dhillon, a former protégé of sitting MP Preneet Kaur — Congress’ Patiala nominee — had contested the 2012 assembly elections as a Congress rebel and pocketed huge votes.

POLITICAL PRESSURES

Fear of factionalism was precisely the reason behind ageing SAD secretary general and Rajya Sabha MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa (Sangrur) and Prem Singh Chandumajra (Anandpur Sahib) testing their luck at the hustings. Both were defeated in the last Lok Sabha polls. Chandumajra had lost from Patiala by a huge margin of more than 97,000 votes.

Similarly, the SAD retained, after much deliberation, sitting Ferozepur MP Sher Singh Ghubaya and Faridkot (reserved) MP Paramjit Kaur Gulshan despite reports of undercurrent of dissent against the duo. Worried that dropping sitting MPs on the basis of lack of performance would give ample ammunition to the Congress, retaining the two was akin to swallowing a bitter pill.