With opinion polls predicting a victory for the Congress in Punjab assembly elections, party rebels have begun to fall in line as 20 of them have withdrawn from the contest in favour of official candidates.
Initially, more than 40 rebels decided to contest as independents when they were denied the party ticket. Congress managers had the tough task of selecting the 117 candidates out of 1,500 applicants.
On Tuesday, senior leader Jagmohan Sharma pulled out of the contest in favour of party candidate Gurmail Singh Pahalwan from Ludhiana East.
“Nobody wants to be in the opposition when your own party is in power and moreover when you have suffered at the hands of the Akali Dal-BJP alliance for five years for being a Congressman,” a senior Congress functionary said. “Obviously, the rethink is prompted by the opinion polls.”
The India Today-ORG opinion poll predicted 69 seats for the Congress in Punjab and gave the ruling SAD-BJP alliance 40, down 27 seats from 2007.
Similarly, a survey by STAR News-Nielsen gave 63 seats to the Congress, a gain of 19 seats from 2007, in the 117-member assembly and forecast 53 seats for the SAD-BJP combine.
Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh, who emerged as the most popular chief ministerial candidate in the opinion polls, had expelled 12 rebels from the primary membership of the party after they refused to back out of the contest.
Of the remaining 20 rebels in the fray, the Congress leadership hopes a majority of them would withdraw in the next few days in the “larger interests” of the party.