What extent can you go to for a Congress ticket? In case of Punjab, party’s ticket hopefuls have not only found two voters per booth, paid Rs 10,000 for general seats and Rs 5,000 for reserved seats and signed a loyalty pledge that they would not rebel against the candidate announced by the party.
That was just for the preliminary round. Two back-to-back poll drubbings in Punjab have not dented the party’s appeal among contenders. As the contest enters the final round at Delhi where the party high command takes a final call, the Punjab Bhawan in the national capital has become a “shared dormitory” with some rooms having more than six occupants, admit Congress leaders.
And it is not just first-timers or defeated candidates who are lobbying for tickets. Congress sitting MLAs too have been spending sleepless nights at the Punjab Bhawan fearing they may be dropped as per “surveys” of Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh. The Captain has also set the pulse of many political dynasties and senior leaders racing by bringing in ‘one family, one ticket’ rule, advocating Hindu faces should be fielded from Hindu-majority seats, ruling out seat swaps for MLAs from general seats and announcing at least 30 seats for youth and “fair representation” for women. Not to forget, all candidates need to be “winnable” too!
Among those not worried is MLA Kuljit Singh Nagra, who is busy campaigning in his constituency, Fatehgarh Sahib. “I was also there at Punjab Bhawan in Delhi. But the situation had changed from sharing rooms to sharing even towels,” he quips.
It also seems to be one of the pressures on the party to release the list. Amarinder too is amused. “The whole of Punjab is sitting here. In the army, eight people shared a tent. Probably, the Akalis cannot find a place to stay. In that case, they too can pitch tents outside the Congress Bhawan. But how can they serve eviction notice or charge penalty from Congressmen who are paying the rent?” he says.
The Bhawan authorities, when contacted, admitted that the government has asked them to take action against “illegal” occupants and get them evicted. But none of the officials agreed to be quoted.
The Punjab Bhawan sees such footfall of Congress ticket contenders every five years when the state heads to polls. Located in the heart of Delhi near the Congress office, the Bhawan has four categories of rooms and the rent starts from an unbelievable Rs 30 to Rs 800 for “ordinary suites” while the “minister’s suite” is available for Rs 30 in category I and Rs 930 in category IV. The penalty? It is Rs 1,530 for both ordinary and minister’s suites. That’s too not much considering each candidate has shelled out Rs 10,000 for applying for a ticket.