Of the two things Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had said during his Punjab visits — candidates would be announced six months in advance and only Congress can defeat the Congress — but only the latter is coming true. Even as elections are likely to be announced this month, the party is busy doing what it does best, adjusting candidates and fitting them into the criteria of youth, women and this time also “one family, one ticket”.
Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh, who has been proclaiming ever since his return to presidency that winnability alone will be the criteria, also seems to be applying it with exception for both loyalists and detractors. Even the surveys are being put to selective use. Party sources say some sitting MLAs are on a weak wicket in the surveys but Amarinder has ruled out swapping of general seats. A little inspiration from Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Badal would have helped here. To beat anti-incumbency, Sukhbir has dropped and juggled seats of over 30 sitting and former MLAs with great ease, despite an open revolt.
Congress MLAs are also questioning why Amarinder has brought in the criteria of “no swap” only for general seats. If senior leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal is looking better than other Congress contenders on the Lehra seat in the surveys, it’s simply because the Congress has no better alternative against her. Bhattal was keen to shift, but has been pinned down to Lehra.
A ready reckoner for the Congress on how a little shuffling helps should be in Ludhiana MP Ravneet Bittu who was in 2014 shifted out of the Anandpur Sahib Lok Sabha segment at the last moment owing to anti-incumbency and he clinched the Ludhiana seat as a wild card entry.
Some of Amarinder’s loyalists were in the “danger zone” in the surveys but they were allowed a safe passage in the list of MLAs he had decided to drop for “non-performance”. Even these MLAs, it is learnt, have managed to get “adjusted” with Rajya Sabha MPs, central Congress leaders and in some cases, Rahul and party president Sonia Gandhi themselves, bailing them out.
Muktsar seat is an example. Amarinder had met Bhai Kuku for the Muktsar seat but sitting MLA Karan Brar has in an audio message announced her candidature. Though Brar says as a disciplined party leader, she is waiting for an official announcement. Sources in the party contend she had got Sonia’s word that her seat is safe. Rubbishing any survey that showed Brar on a sticky wicket, sources close to her said Bhai Kuku had been going around saying he has been promised the seat by Amarinder. Sources in the screening committee said there is little possibility of a sitting MLA from general seat being dropped, other than those who have decided to opt out for family.
SC MLAs VS WINNABILITY
Amarinder has said shuffling of sitting and former MLAs will be allowed on reserved seats, never mind if the MLA can win even the other seat. In Jaito, MLA Joginder Singh, sources said, does not have favourable report in the surveys. So he was asked to shift base to another reserved seat, Malout. But here too he faced a revolt. Joginder is likely to be rehabilitated in another reserved constituency if not dropped. Likewise, the party is eager to shuffle the Bhadaur seat of its MLA Mohammad Sadique. In neighbouring Mehal Kalan, MLA Harchand Kaur fits the criteria of woman candidate but is being opposed by a MLA close to Amarinder.
YOUTH VS WOMEN VS HINDU
The party is facing a conflict between its criteria of fielding women and youth along with “one family, one ticket” norm. At least three women MLAs who ranked high on winnability will be making way for the family, including Amarinder’s wife and Patiala (urban) MLA Preneet Kaur, Rajya Sabha MP Partap Bajwa’s wife Charanjit Bajwa and Nawanshahr MLA Guriqbal Kaur.
Another concern of the party is to ensure it fields at least 24 Hindu faces as the last time. Three Hindu MLAs — one each from Gurdaspur, Ludhiana and Hoshiarpur districts — were not looking good in the surveys. In Ludhiana north, mayor Harcharan Singh Gohalwaria too is vying for the ticket in place of MLA Rakesh Pandey, a Bhattal loyalist.
Sources said of the 117 seats, 65 to 70 are non-contentious where there is a sitting MLA or a strong contender, including new entrants from the SAD. The party is struggling on the remaining seats to ensure the different criteria are met.