Will Prime Minister Manmohan Singh take an electoral plunge again, after his defeat in the 1999 Lok Sabha election from South Delhi?
Singh's Rajya Sabha term comes to an end in June 2007. Though he would find it easy to get re-nominated, Congressmen say it will give the party a big boost in the assembly elections in Punjab if he decides to contest from Amritsar — the Lok Sabha seat vacated by BJP's Navjot Singh Sidhu after his conviction in a road-rage case.
Having completed more than half of his five year tenure, Manmohan Singh is the longest serving PM to hold that position as a Rajya Sabha member.
Most PMs have chosen the electoral route though there is no bar on a Rajya Sabha MP becoming a PM. In fact, there are precedents of this in Indira Gandhi and HD Deve Gowda who were prime ministers while representing the Upper House.
Congress leader PV Narasimha Rao was not even a member of either House when he became PM. He later contested from the Nandyal Lok Sabha seat.
But if Singh contests from Amritsar and enters the Lok Sabha, he would then become the Leader of the House, a position presently being held by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Mukherjee, too, had carried the stamp of only being a Rajya Sabha member. But he erased the impression that he could not win an election when, in 2004, he contested and won from Jangipur.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi is believed to have bounced this question off Singh when she and the PM met recently. The latter's response: "Let us see."
Though Sidhu won the seat in 2004 and now wants the BJP to give the ticket to his wife (who is also called Navjot), the constituency remains a Congress stronghold. And if Singh decides to contest, it would acquire the sheen of the "prime minister's constituency."
As it is, Congressmen struggling to beat back anti-incumbency in the Assembly elections in February, peg their hopes on him. They see their USP in the fact that a Sikh is the PM and that too, one of Singh's calibre.
"We'll be utterly delighted if the PM contests. It is a winning seat. If he contests, we'll sweep the assembly polls," Chief Minister Amarinder Singh told the Hindustan Times . His views were echoed by former Pradesh Congress Committee chief HS Hanspal and other Punjab leaders. "But the decision lies with him," the CM said.
Sources said that Amarinder had urged the PM to contest when he recently visited Amritsar. But Singh appeared reluctant and remained non-committal.
If he agrees, Singh's candidature would put the Akali Dal in a spot. Just as they had to back the Congress' Zail Singh for the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the early eighties, they would find it difficult to oppose Singh even if the BJP may want to put up a candidate against him.
But if Singh decides against contesting, the field would be wide open for a long list of aspirants. Amritsar born, cinestar-turned-politician Rajesh Khanna, is a frontrunner for a nomination though some see his likely candidature as a "red herring" so that the Congress can spring a surprise on the Akali Dal-BJP by fielding Singh.
But the local unit is likely to resist if Khanna's name is considered for nomination. "The local unit wants someone who has worked in the area to be considered as a candidate from Amritsar," said an All India Congress Committee leader. In the race is also Surinder Singla, a legislator with cabinet rank as chairman of a committee.