Harminder Singh Jassi, a close relative of Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and former union minister Preneet Kaur are the Congress candidates for the August 21 by-poll on two assembly seats in Punjab.
The Congress on Saturday named Jassi as the party candidate from Talwandi Sabo and Kaur, wife of former Punjab chief minister and Amritsar MP Capt Amarinder Singh, from Patiala.
The decision was taken by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who on Saturday held a discussion with state party president Partap Singh Bajwa before finalising the candidates.
While the name of the candidate from Patiala was recommended by Capt Amarinder Singh, the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee had forwarded the names for the Talwandi Sabo seat.
The move is a clear indication that the party has sought to strike a balance between different groups in the faction-ridden Punjab Congress.
Buoyed by results of the byelections in Uttarakhand where it won all the three seats, the Congress is leaving no stone unturned to repeat the performance in Punjab. It has sent a strong message to all the warring factions to close ranks and ensure the victory of the party candidates on both the seats.
After the party's decimation in the recent Lok Sabha elections, the Congress leadership is trying to galvanise the cadre. Sonia Gandhi personally thanked voters and workers for the victory of the party candidates in Uttarakhand. "It reflects people's disenchantment with the BJP whose government at the Centre has failed to deliver on its promises," she said. "It is also an indication that people are looking towards Congress once again with hope."
By giving the ticket to Jassi, whose daughter is married to the dera chief's son, the Congress is hoping to get the support of dera followers.
The sect has around 35 lakh devotees across Punjab. Though Jassi had lost the 2012 elections from Bathinda urban at the hands of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate and businessman Sarup Chand Singla, the Congress had won from Talwandi Sabo constituency which lies close to Sirsa, the headquarters of the dera. Its candidate Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu later joined the Akali Dal which has named him as the party candidate from the seat.
On the other hand, three-time MP Kaur had lost the recent Lok Sabha elections from Patiala to Dharamvira Gandhi of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The seat was vacated by Amarinder after he won the Lok Sabha elections from Amritsar.
Preneet, a three-time MP, will contest her first assembly election, while it's the fifth election for Jassi. He had been elected as an MLA in 1992 and 1997 from Talwandi Sabo, before shifting to Bathinda.