The anxiety among Congress ticket contenders for the Punjab assembly elections is growing, and so is the rush at Punjab Bhawan, which has virtually turned into “Punjab Congress Bhawan” with leaders of all hues camping here in hordes in hope for ticket.
While the SAD has already declared most of its candidates, the delay by the Congress in announcing the names has held up its election campaign, a cause for concern for leaders who stand a chance.
Equipped with meticulously drafted bio data and supporters in tow, many ticket hopefuls, from sitting MLAs to little-known party workers, are making a beeline for the residences of senior Congress leaders like CP Joshi and JP Aggarwal, members of the screening committee, and the AICC headquarters at 24 Akbar Road.
Having a capacity of about 100 rooms, Punjab Bhawan is packed with Congress leaders, barring some rooms occupied by state BJP leaders who are waiting for their high command to declare tickets. Cramped for space, the leaders have spread mattresses on the floor inside their rooms to accommodate their supporters.
Surprisingly, many frontline leaders with a sound record in Punjab’s electoral politics are also camping here. On the other hand, top state Congress leaders, including PPCC president Capt Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, leader of opposition in the Vidhan Sabha, are assisting the high command in finalising the candidates.
“Just about anybody and everybody in the race for ticket is camping here for the past one week. It is a village mela (fair) of sorts at Punjab Bhawan and the AICC headquarters,” said a worried sitting MLA from the Malwa region, wondering when he would finally get to launch his campaign to dislodge his Akali rival at the hustings.
“This wait for tickets is killing the enthusiasm and zeal of supporters. The delay has paralysed the election campaign,” said a former cabinet minister.
What has further compounded the confusion in the Congress rank and file camping here is the tactical distance which Amarinder and Bhattal have been maintaining from ticket seekers. A party leader said they were both staying and holding parleys at “secret locations” and were not accessible on the phone.
“Everybody here is tense and anxious... We are getting late. Our leaders are not sharing the latest developments with us. There is a complete communication gap,” said an MLA of the Malwa region.
It is in this backdrop that the Congress leadership, on Thursday, was again mulling over the contentious issue of trimming the ticket seekers’ list during deliberations with union minister for road transport and highways CP Joshi, chairman of the screening committee. Other members of the committee are Delhi Congress chief JP Aggarwal, PPCC chief Capt Amarinder Singh, CLP leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Punjab party affairs in-charge Gulchain Singh Charak.
It is learnt that the screening committee was set to give a final shape to its list of probables. The committee met all candidates who had lost the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The meeting continued till late in the evening.
Congress sources said consensus was emerging on fielding most of the sitting MLAs and former cabinet ministers, including those who had lost the 2007 assembly elections.
From the screening committee, the ticket seekers’ list will go to the 11-member central election committee headed by AICC president Sonia Gandhi. Other members of the committee are Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ahmed Patel, AK Antony, Ambika Soni, Ashok Ram, ML Fotedar, Janardhan Dwivedi, Oscar Fernandes, Pranab Mukherjee and Ram Naresh Yadav.
A cross-section of anxious state Congress leaders HT spoke to feel that the tickets should be allotted without further delay since time is running out.