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Party hoppers rebel for a cause: tickets

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The Aya Ram-gaya Ram experience might have once been strictly confined to Haryana — the state carved out of Punjab in 1966 — but political turncoats in the parent state are trying hard to reclaim the honour these days.

Till a few days ago, more than a dozen candidates in Punjab did not belong to the parties they are contesting from today. The Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party are diametrically opposed to the ideology of the Congress. But that has not prevented either of them from fielding the rebels from the rival parties.

Congress MLA from Muktsar, Sukhdarshan Singh Marar is one instance. Contesting these days on an Akali ticket, Marar had won the 2002 elections as an Independent. He then joined the Congress before switching to the SAD. Rivaling his ideological leap is Gurbachan Singh Babbehali, the SAD candidate from Gurdaspur.

“The Congress will lose. Its rule in the state has been corruption-ridden and there has been no development,” he says. Babbehali, incidentally, had cited his “loyalty and faith in the policies of the Congress” to apply for a party ticket last month. He was then the general secretary of the party’s state unit. “But I am with the Akalis now," he points out, when reminded of his former ties with the Congress.

Babbehali faces former Delhi Police Commissioner P.S. Bhinder in the Feb ruary 13 contest. Bhinder is the Congress candidate. Till recently, he was a bitter critic of the Congress’s handling of the militancy in the state.

Then there is former militant and All India Sikh Students' Federation president Harminder Singh Gill — confidante of Khalistan votary Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who was killed in Operation Bluestar — now the Congress candidate from Patti in Amritsar. He faces Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon of the SAD. Kairon is the grandson of former chief minister and arguably the most powerful Congress leader Punjab has seen — Pratap Singh Kairon.

The list goes on. Rajpura Congress MLA Raj Khurana got saffronised just before the election. He is in the race as a BJP man this time. Congress candidate from Pacca Kalan in Bathinda, Makhan Singh, thought the Congress was anti-Punjab till last month, when he was an Akali.

Bahujan Samaj Party candidate from Dhuri in Sangrur, Dhanwant Singh Dhuri, has left the Congress thrice. Former SAD MP Prem Singh Chandumajra hhad left the party but returned just in time last month to get the party ticket from Lehra.

The SAD MLA from Shatrana in Patiala, Nirmal Singh, is now a Congress candidate. While the party lost Singh to the Congress, it welcomed Con gressman Master Hamir Singh Ghagga. Singh and Ghagga are both pitched against each other in the electoral battle, just like they were in 2002. Only, they have swapped parties. SAD general secretary Sukhbir Singh Badal, who insiders say had the biggest say in deciding the candidates for the party, says ‘winnability’ is the sole reason guiding ticket distribution.

Satirist Jaspal Bhatti has his own take on the phenomenon. In this land of turncoats, he says, the colour of the turban determines your company: blue for Akalis, white for the Congress. Bhatti suggests politicians learn the art of dyeing turbans or hire their own dyers.