Before the state elections, the Punjab Congress leaders are locked in a keen contest over the criteria for ticket distribution. After the proxy war — Rajya Sabha MP Partap Bajwa and Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh’s loyalists had exchanged fire through press statements — Bajwa squared up with Amarinder in the open at the meeting of the 34-member state election committee over tickets to “turncoats”.
With another former state party chief and Rajya Sabha MP Shamsher Singh Dullo providing the covering fire to Bajwa, the former Congress chief who was edged out by Amarinder not very long ago through an open revolt, said the Jaipur resolution of the party, which had decided that new entrants from other parties should not be allotted tickets before a three-year cooling off period, should be adhered to.
Having set the stage for a confrontation through similar statements in the last few weeks, Bajwa said the state election committee has been formed to debate on the criteria for candidate selection and not merely to pass a one-line resolution authorising party president Sonia Gandhi as is the party norm. He said multiple agencies had conducted surveys to judge winnability of candidates and reports should be made open for the panel to make an informed decision.
Dullo, who was at his offensive best, attacked Amarinder saying those he got from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) left the Congress “high and dry” after winning on the party symbol. “They returned to the Akali Dal and forced bypolls on us. Be it Joginderpal Jain (Moga MLA), Arvind Khanna (former Dhuri MLA) or Jeet Mohinder Sidhu. They ate our cream and then ditched us. We cannot allow Congress to become Akali Dal,” Dullo said at the meeting.
Sources in the Congress said Amarinder’s response to both the leaders was “meek”. The way an emboldened Bajwa took on Amarinder has also set off rumours within the party if he was trying to give Amarinder a taste of his own medicine, that too with the backing of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Bajwa left the meeting midway, though by then their diatribe had toned down.
Party’s Hindus MLAs were also assertive in demanding that the party needs to turn back the tide of erosion of its traditional vote bank — urban voters. Senior party MLA Brahm Mohindra said the party needed to take care of urban voters as its traditional votebank had eroded. “Sukhbir Badal (SAD president) fielded 11 Hindus in the last elections and all won. Whereas, the tally of Hindu MLAs had fallen to seven in the 2012 state elections from 23 in 2002 polls. It was eight in 2007,” he said. Another Hindu MLA Ashwani Sekhri and former Ludhiana MP Manish Tewari too echoed similar views.
Some leaders also opposed last week’s induction of former Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur into the party, saying he was interrogated by the enforcement directorate (ED) in the Bhola drug case and the party stands to lose its own credibility in fight against drugs by taking the “tainted”.
The meeting ended with Amarinder announcing that all 34 members of the committee had been provided dockets with names of all the prospective candidates for each of the 117 assembly constituencies in the state. The committee members, he said, have also been asked to check out the report cards of the ticket seekers in the docket and come out with their suggestions, if any, by 11am on Monday, after which the list, with suggestions, will be sent to the Congress screening committee slated to meet in New Delhi under the chairmanship of Ashok Gehlot on November 23 and 24.
He said winnability and merit will be the key criteria in the selection of candidates and the first list of candidates for polls is expected to be released in December first week. The panel then passed a one-line resolution authorising Sonia to take the final decision.