Two poll drubbings and a triangular contest with ruling Akali Dal-BJP alliance and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) notwithstanding, it’s the list of ticket hopefuls that is worrying the Congress.
After party vice-president Rahul Gandhi declared early announcement of candidates for the 2017 assembly elections and Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh has laid down “one ticket, per family” rule, speculations are already rife in party on who would make the cut.
With as many as 22 rebels sabotaging its 2012 poll run, the Congress intends to have a strategy in place to rein in those who have the clout to damage its prospects in a segment after they are denied a ticket. Party’s campaign committee chairperson and Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni says the committee will reach out to rebels.
“In 2012 polls, we could not foresee the damage inflicted on us by rebels. We did not pacify them. This time, leaders who do not get tickets will be roped in the campaign committee. They will later be accommodated in various positions (chairpersons of boards and corporations) in the government as Amarinder has already announced that MLAs will not get these positions,” she added.
Though the party knows the aspirants and has its own assessment of their winnability, it may commission surveys in due course to zero in on winnable candidates and “weed out” others.
‘Campaign panel not irrelevant’
Soni is facing criticism from within the party with some leaders alleging that the panel is “irrelevant” in the campaign scene and Soni largely “absent”.
Hitting out at her detractors, Soni said though the poll campaign in the state is centered around Amarinder, other senior leaders are not “zero”.
“The campaign committee is usually announced closer to elections. It was formed a year ahead of polls as the party wanted to bring in a new team while appointing Amarinder as the Punjab Congress chief to ensure senior leaders, different communities and sections were duly adjusted. I was appointed as the chairperson owing to my long experience in Punjab politics. MLA Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, who hails from Bazigaar (SC) community was made vice-chairman and Ludhiana MP Ravneet Bittu as convener to represent the youth. The post of campaign committee head is just a nomenclature. It is the state party president who runs the show. But that does not make others zero. We are all working to support the campaign. I don’t want to hold my own meetings and create a parallel power centre,” Soni said.
But with stategist Prashant Kishor at helm of the campaign, there is little the committee has left to do, something Soni admits while dismissing the perception that she stands “alientated” in Amarinder’s campaign, at times not even consulted.
“Poll strategists now fight elections. Kishor does personality-centric campaigns and programmes such as Coffee with Captain and Halke vich Captain are centered around Amarinder. My role is to coordinate various ongoing campaigns and channelise the vast experience available within the party. We have too many senior leaders, including former CMs, former state chiefs and four or five-time MLAs or MPs. They too have a lot to contribute to the party. I have to ensure the campaign
goes on smoothly by ironing out differences among party leaders,” she adds.
Not seen touring the state as other senior leaders, she says her job is not to visit all 117 assembly segments. “That is to be done by Amarinder as he is the face of the campaign. To be able to spend more time here, I have requested Congress president Sonia Gandhi to releive of the charge of Uttarakhand, J&K and Himachal so that I can concentrate on Punjab,” Soni said.