Five first-timers, five sitting MLAs, and seven candidates who had lost in 2012, are on the list of 17 finalised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the Punjab assembly elections to be held on February 4. Of the six seats kept pending — the BJP contests 23 of 117 seats as per pact with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) — four are held by the party’s ministers. The list clearly has the stamp of state BJP president and Union minister Vijay Sampla.
The party has decided to give a first chance to five candidates handpicked by Sampla — Kamal Chetli from Ludhiana West, Gurdev Sharma from Ludhiana Central, Arun Narang from Abohar, Rajesh Honey from Amritsar East, and Harjit Singh Grewal from Rajpura.
A Sikh face of the state BJP for long, Grewal is seen as close to the BJP’s parent, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and had sought the ticket in 2012 too. This time, he wanted to contest Barnala, which is with the SAD, but the BJP’s seat-swap with the ally never happened. He will now seek to make his mark from Rajpura, where the party’s entrenched leader, former MLA Raj Khurana, died recently of long illness.
From Amritsar East, the seat that was vacated by Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu who is now with the Congress, the party has put its bet on Rajesh Honey, a councillor. Dr Sidhu’s husband, former BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu. is being seen as the Congress candidate from here this time.
The five MLAs who will seek re-election are Sukhjeet Kaur Shahi from Dasuya, Ashwani Sharma from Pathankot, Dinesh Babbu from Sujanpur, Seema Kumari from Bhoa and KD Bhandari from Jalandhar North.
Besides, the party has given another shot to Parveen Bansal from Ludhiana North, Rakesh Gill from Amritsar West, Tarun Chugh from Amritsar Central, BD Dhupar from Dinanagar, Tikshan Sud from Hoshiarpur, Arunesh Shakir from Mukerian and Sukhpal Singh Nannu from Ferozepur Urban. Former state unit president Kamal Sharma was seeking the Ferozepur ticket but is learnt to have withdrawn after seeing that Sampla would favour Nannu, sources said.
Due to Sampla’s ongoing feud with Phagwara MLA Som Parkash, the decision on that seat was kept on hold as Sampla wants a new face. Som Parkash had opposed Sampla’s candidature in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Also pending is Jalandhar Central, from where former minister Manoranjan Kalia is the party’s MLA at present.
Decision on seats of the four cabinet ministers — Madan Mohan Mittal from Anandpur Sahib, Chunni Lal Bhagat from Jalandhar West, Anil Joshi from Amritsar North, and Surjit Kumar Jyani from Fazilka — was also not taken for now as there is talk of Mittal and Bhagat being replaced due to age.
The names were okayed at a meeting convened by party president Amit Shah in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also present, sources in Delhi said. After the three-hour meeting, the party decided to officially declare the names on Thursday.