After a long-drawn-out intra party battle in Delhi, the Congress at the stroke of Thursday midnight declared 114 candidates for January 30 assembly elections in Punjab with top state leaders securing berths for at least 14 of their kin.
Unable to overcome sharp differences within various factions despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reportedly intervening, the party could not take decision on three seats - Mansa in Malwa belt, Bhoa and Sujanpur of Majha region of the state. Punjab has 117 assembly seats and former finance minister Surinder Singla is making last ditch efforts to secure ticket from Mansa by replacing the aging sitting MLA Sher Singh Gagowal.
The party was walking a tightrope to maintain the fine balance between rival factions. The entire state leadership and the ticket hopefuls had been camping in New Delhi for the past over 12 days, giving a free run to the SAD-BJP in Punjab. The tussle among the rival factions was so much so that from January 2, after the matter reached the central election committee, the Congress leadership held numerous rounds of meetings to decide its 117 candidates. This delay had left the ticket hopefuls confused and demoralised as well.
The Congress dropped at least six sitting legislators in the first list of the total 43 sitting MLAs owing to various reasons, including failing health and to adjust the kin. But the party retained at least 35 candidates who had unsuccessfully contested the February 13, 2007 assembly elections.
In what is being seen as a smart move the Congress's list is packed with many surprises such as fielding about 32 new faces and 12 women in its bid of coming back to power by dethroning the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government.
In this seemingly kin-heavy list, party has given ticket to Raninder Singh - from Samana segment in Patiala district--son of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Capt Amarinder Singh, who is spearheading the party's campaign.
While the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal managed to field her son-in-law Vikram Singh Bajwa from Sahnewal in Ludhiana, former PPCC chief Shamsher Singh Dullo who himself was unable to get ticket, however got nod to filed his better half Harbans Kaur Dullo from a reserve seat Bassi Pathana in Fatehgarh Sahib.
Similarly, Lok Sabha MP Pratap Singh Bajwa's wife Charanjeet Kaur Bajwa will contest for the first time from Qadian and Jalandhar MP Mohinder Singh Kay Pee's wife Suman Kaypee will also make a maiden entry for the upcoming battle of the battle from reserve Jalandhar West seat. The heavy weights such as former Punjab Congress chief Shamsher Singh Dullo, former finance minister Surinder Singla and Malti Thapar are out of the reckoning in this list.
The heavy weights set to jump into the fray are PPCC chief Capt Amarinder Singh (Patiala), Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehra), Lal Singh (Sanaur), Brahm Mohindra (Patiala Rural), Jagmohan Singh Kang (Kharar), Chaudhary Jagjit Singh (Kartarpur), Rana Gurjeet Singh (Kapurthala), Amarjit Singh Samra (Nakodar), Ramesh Chander Dogra (Dasuya), Rakesh Pandey (Ludhiana North), Jasbir Singh Khangura (Dakha), CD Kamboj (Shahkot), Sunil Kumar Jakhar (Abohar), Mahesh Inder Singh Badal (Lambi), and Gurchet Singh Bhullar (Khem Karan).
Though this list appears to be a mixed bag not having stamp of any particular leader, it indicates Capt Amarinder Singh having a say as he secured berth to his main loyalist Arvind Khanna and a few others. Besides, two former Akali leaders - Jasbir Singh Brar and Kaka Surjit Singh Lohgarh - who recently joined Congress after defecting from People's Party of Punjab of Manpreet Singh Badal getting ticket despite stiff opposition from a section of the Congress is a clear indication of Capt Amarinder having his way in ticket distribution.
Another significant aspect of this list is that the party has kept in mind to maintain caste and religion factor, especially by fielding Hindu faces from the Hindu dominated seats, which was not the case in February 2007 elections because of which Congress had suffered setbacks in the urban areas.