Before it fights the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Congress is busy battling internal opposition on some key seats between its high-profile leaders.
The meeting of the central election committee of the party chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday cleared a majority of seats barring those on which a consensus has not yet been reached among committee members.
The panel has decided to first clear seats of Congress candidates and those of new entrants from other parties who have come directly through the party high command such as Navjot Kaur Sidhu, Pargat Singh and Manpreet Badal. All three are likely to get the seats of their preference.
On the remaining seats, the screening panel headed by former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and comprising Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh, party affairs in-charge Asha Kumari and team of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi -- Harish Chaudhary, Rajiv Satav and Meenakshi Natrajan -- will hold more deliberations, with involvement of key leaders.
In Ludhiana, it is an open tussle between former union minister Manish Tewari and incumbent MP Ravneet Bittu, who won the seat after Tewari shied away from contesting in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Tewari is keen to contest Ludhiana East seat. But Bittu and Ludhiana West MLA Bharat Bhushan Ashu, both close to Rahul, are opposing the move. While Bittu may not want to let Tewari regain a hold over Ludhiana, the latter wants to resurrect himself in politics through Punjab as a prominent Hindu face.
Bittu’s supporters blame Tewari for “wrong” ticket distribution in Ludhiana during the 2012 state polls, a fact the former MP has himself admitted. Bittu’s supporters have been proposing that Tewari contest Ludhiana South instead where his loyalist Ashok Prashar has switched over to the AAP. But Tewari has the backing of Amarinder and is pleading his case with other former Punjab MPs who want to be rehabilitated such as Santosh Chaudhary.
For Bathinda Urban, there is a keen contest between two former state finance ministers. While Amarinder is batting for Surinder Singla on the plea that it is a Hindu-dominated seat and both SAD and AAP have fielded Hindus here, Manpreet is learnt to have got a direct assurance for the seat from Rahul himself.
The argument that is being put in favour of Manpreet is that Bathinda Urban has almost equal number of Sikhs as Hindus and Manpreet had fared well from the constituency against Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Those rooting for Singla contend that Manpreet can win from any Jat Sikh-dominated seat and Bathinda Urban is a safe seat for the Congress and should be allotted to a Hindu leader. Sources in the screening committee said Manpreet is most likely to be nominated for the seat and Singla may be adjusted somewhere else.
Also, no decision has been taken on Samana seat which former minister Lal Singh is seeking for his son, Rajinder Singh, who has been offered his father’s seat Sanaur.
Amarinder wants Samana to go to Harinder Mann, a former information commissioner of Punjab.
Deepinder Dhillon, who joined the Congress from SAD along with Mann, too has to get a final nod for the Dera Bassi seat. The Phillaur seat, which is being eyed by former Akali Dal minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur, is also in the pending list.
There is also resistance to dropping of some sitting MLAs over poor survey reports.
Highly placed sources in the party said consensus has been reached on around 90 seats and another meeting of the CEC would be held this weekend to clear the remaining ones.