Keeping its promise of being the first to announce candidates for the Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections due early next year, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Thursday released the first list of 19 for the 117-member assembly. AAP state affairs in-charge Sanjay Singh, who released the list, said the party now had a head start over the field. Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, whom the party has made chairman of the campaign committee, said the first list included prominent leaders, members of youth brigade, wing heads, sports stars, and social workers, besides a small trader and a taxi driver.
Sanjay Singh said the candidates were selected on three criteria — efforts put in to strengthen the party in the area, contribution to society, and clean public image. Most of the candidates are first-time contestants. The party has fielded Jat Sikhs on the traditional seats of this caste and bet on unknown Dalit faces. Most candidates are well educated — four of them are lawyers, one is a doctor, and another engineer. Six are Class-12-pass or matriculates. A dozen candidates are under 50, including three below 30.
PHOOLKA LEADS PACK
The most prominent name is of senior lawyer Harvinder Singh Phoolka (60), who will contest from Dakha in the Ludhiana parliamentary seat that he failed to win in 2014. Known for his relentless fight for justice to the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Phoolka received more than 46,500 votes in Dakha, 6,000 plus more than Akali candidate Manpreet Ayali, a property developer and sitting legislator.
The other advocate on the list is Himmat Singh Shergill (36), in charge of party’s legal wing, who will contest from SAS Nagar. For the MP’s seat in Anandpur Sahib, he received 50,000 votes from SAS Nagar, 7,000 more than the winning Shiromani Akali Dal candidate Prem Singh Chandumajra, and 15,000 more than Congress stalwart Ambika Soni. Traditionally a Congress stronghold, the town has businessman Balbir Singh Sidhu of the party as its MLA.
AAP youth wing president Harjot Singh Bains (25), a lawyer, will contest from Sahnewal, the seat held by cabinet minister Sharanjit Singh Dhillon. The AAP’s Harinder Singh Khalsa (now suspended from the party) won 35,000 votes in this assembly segment in 2014.
Arjuna Award winner former international basketball player Sajjan Singh Cheema (59) is the AAP choice from Sultanpur Lodhi. In 2012, Navtej Singh of the Congress wrested this seat from the SAD’s Upinderjit Kaur after her three victories since 1997. AAP candidate Bhai Baldeep Singh polled more than 24,000 votes here to stand third in the 2014 Lok Sabha race. He is now out of the AAP and Cheema, a former cop, faces boycott by the losing ticket contenders.
2-TIME BSP MP MAKES CUT
Mohan Singh Phalianwala (60) is a prominent Dalit name on the list. The two-time MP was state president of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for almost 15 years. He will contest from the Ferozepur Rural reserved seat held by the SAD’s Joginder Singh Jindu, who had beaten the Congress by just 162 votes in 2012. The AAP Lok Sabha candidate secured almost 19,000 votes here in 2014, when the BSP secured less than 2,000.
Engineer and social worker Kultar Singh Sandhwa (40) will fight from Kotkapura, where Mantar Singh Brar of the SAD secured almost 50,000 votes to win in 2012. The town, however, voted overwhelmingly (more than 47,000 votes) in favour of AAP candidate Professor Sadhu Singh in the 2014 parliamentary elections.
AAP farm and labour wing general secretary Ahbaab Singh Grewal (38) will contest from Ludhiana West . Congress candidate Bharat Bhushan Ashu won the seat in 2012 after defeating Rajinder Bhandari of the BJP by almost 37,000 votes. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Phoolka led here by more than 38,000 votes.
Environmentalist and medical practitioner Inderbir Singh Nijjer (60) will contest the Amritsar South seat , twice represented by Inderbir Singh Bolaria for the SAD. Bolaria, now suspended, will be replaced by a fresh candidate. In the high-voltage Amritsar contest in 2014 between Arun Jaitley and Captain Amarinder Singh, Amritsar South gave only 15,000 votes to Dr Daljit Singh of the AAP. National basketball player Gurdit Singh Sekhon (45) will contest from Faridkot, a seat held by liquor baron Deep Malhotra of the SAD. Malhotra scraped through against Avtar Singh Brar of the Congress in 2012. The town inclined towards the AAP in 2014, when the AAP candidate polled more than 53,000 votes.
KASAB’S INTERROGATOR FIELDED IN BALACHAUR
Brig Raj Kumar (retd) , 59, formerly of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) man and later member of the general staff intelligence team that interrogated Pakistani terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, will contest from Balachaur. Running a free coaching academy for army aspirants, he is a known face in the town. The seat belongs to the SAD’s Hindu candidate, Nand Lal, since 1997. It has substantial BSP votes, and in 2012, the BSP candidate came second here. The AAP got only 14,600 votes here in 2014.
AAP youth wing vice-president, farmer Samarbir Singh Sidhu (25), will contest from traditional BJP stronghold Fazilka. In 2012, BJP minister Surjit Jyani had a narrow victory over independent Jaswinder Singh Rocky, a gangster-turned-politician who was killed this May. In 2014, Fazilka voted for the SAD, with the AAP candidate getting less than 7,000 votes.
Rajpreet Singh Randhawa (51), former president of a municipality in Ramdas, will contest from Ajnala, a seat held by Amarpal Singh Bonny Ajnala of the SAD. The seat belongs to the Ajnala family since 1997. In 2014, the town voted almost equally for the BJP and the Congress, while the AAP got less than 5,000 votes.
Agriculturist Jagdeep Singh Brar (48) will contest from Muktsar, where Congress has been winning since 2007. However, Muktsar voted for the SAD in 2014, while the AAP got more than 16,000 votes to stand third.
EX-SGPC MAN, TOO
Gurvinder Singh Shampura (60), a former member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and zila parishad, will contest from Fatehgarh Churian, where Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa (Congress) had a narrow victory over the SAD’s Nirmal Singh Kahlon in 2012. In 2014, the small town voted for Vinod Khanna of the BJP. Sucha Singh Chhotepur of the AAP secured more than 20,000 votes. Gurpreet Singh Lapran (36), who runs a small grocery shop, will contest from Payal, an important Dalit seat held by assembly speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal (SAD). The town gave more than 42,000 votes to the AAP in 2014.
The only woman candidate in the first list is Rupinder Kaur Ruby (28). She is pursuing PhD in law and will contest from the Bathinda Rural reserved seat held by Darshan Singh Kotfatta (SAD). The AAP got only 7,600 votes here in 2014. The AAP’s Sangrur zone in-charge Jasvir Singh Sekhon “Jassi” (48) will contest from Dhuri. Arvind Khanna of the Congress won the seat in 2012 but then he quit and his opponent, Gobind Singh Longowal of the SAD, won the bypoll last year. In 2014, Bhagwant Mann got more than 63,000 votes here, highest among top three.
Former taxi driver Amarjeet Singh (38) from a Nurpur Bedi village, who now runs a small transport business in Delhi, will contest from Rupnagar. It’s the seat of education minister Dr Daljeet Singh Cheema and gave almost 30,000 votes to the AAP last time. AAP’s SC wing general secretary Santokh Singh Salana (48), social activist and former member of the Kanshi Ram Front, is nominated for the Bassi Pathana reserved seat held by former judge Nirmal Singh of the SAD. The AAP polled more than 40,000 votes here in 2014.