Caste and language are once again set to be deciding factors for parties in selecting candidates from Panipat (City) seat for the upcoming assembly elections. Dominated by Punjabi-speaking community, which had migrated from west Punjab (now in Pakistan) and settled here after the Partition, there has been a trend of parties fielding Punjabi candidates from here.
It is evident from the fact that Punjabi candidates from various parties have won nine out of 10 assembly elections from here so far.
A non-Punjabi candidate had won only once in 1996 in Panipat when Independent Om Parkash Jain defeated Balbir Pal Shah of the Congress.
Following public announcements by five-time legislator and a heavyweight Punjabi leader, Shah that he would not contest the forthcoming assembly election, the Congress would field a new face from this industrial town.
However, Shah’s younger brother Varinder Shah is being seen as the strong contender for the ticket.
Bulle, as Varinder is known in the political circles, maintains a low profile and is known as the sole political strategist of his brother. Balbir told HT that he wanted Bulle to take forward the political legacy of the Shah family.
Shah’s father Hukumat Rai was an influential Punjabi leader and represented Panipat as Congress legislator in 1972.
After delimitation, Panipat assembly seat was bifurcated into the city and rural seats during the 2009 assembly polls. The 70-year-old leader was first elected as MLA in 1987 and represented Panipat constituency for three consecutive terms since 2000. Shah remained president of the Haryana Congress from 1987-89 and also party general secretary (1978-79 and 1985-86). He was transport minister in the Bhajan Lal government from 1991 to 96.
But gradually he was sidelined by the Congress leadership and his role was restricted to Panipat.
An outspoken Shah had embarrassed chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda when he resigned in August last year. He had targeted the “indifferent” state leadership and bureaucracy for ignoring developmental activities in his constituency.
In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s candidate from Karnal parliamentary constituency – in which Panipat City is a segment – Ashwani Kumar Chopra “Minna” polled 92,794 votes from Shah’s segment.
Congress’ Arvind Sharma got only 21,959 votes from Panipat and it was seen as an outcome of differences between Shah and Sharma.
Political observers say despite the Congress’ dismal performance in the LS elections, the party cannot afford to ignore Shah or his choice as he has a clout in the community. Chairperson of zila parishad, Jyoti Jaglan is another contender for the ticket.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may once again repeat Sanjay Bhatia from the local seat. Bhatia (47) had unsuccessfully faced Shah in 2005 and 2009 elections as BJP candidate.
Another BJP leader Pramod Vij is also a claimant for the ticket. A novice to electoral politics, Vij is nephew of Fateh Chand Vij who had represented this constituency four times — 1967, 1972 on Jan Sangh ticket, in 1977 as Janata Party candidate and in 1982 on the BJP ticket.
Panipat City is one such segment where the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) has not named its candidate. It is speculated that the party may field Suresh Mital. Traditionally, the INLD had never played a major electoral role in this urban seat.
According to political observers, the Haryana Janhit Congress may field Avinash Paliwal, a leading handloom exporter from the Brahmin community from here.
A political greenhorn, Paliwal is considered as a close aide of late Bhajan Lal, father of HJC president Kuldeep Bishnoi. During the recent parliamentary elections, the HJC had made its mind to field Paliwal from Karnal seat but the plan was shelved due its strained ties with the party’s then ally the BJP.
Paliwal’s uncle, late Madho Ram Sharma had represented the Karnal Lok Sabha seat in 1967 and 1971 as Congress candidate. His nephew is married to the daughter of senior Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi.