The race for Patiala mayor is wide open now due to the scales suddenly tilting in favour of candidates, who were earlier not considered frontrunners. Although Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Badal will select the mayor, a shift in political equations among urban Sikh contenders has led to the others too keeping their fingers crossed.
Considered a weak candidate earlier, second-time councillor Amaninder Bajaj, son of urban district SAD chief Indermohan Singh Bajaj, has emerged as a serious contender in the new scenario.
His rivals from the same community, sitting mayor Ajit Pal Singh Kohli and Yaspal Pardhan, did not consider Amaninder a strong candidate because of his "limited" influence.
"Amaninder is a second-time councillor, but he is yet to establish himself as a leader in the party rank and file and has failed to build his personal image," a senior party functionary said. "Though the Bajaj family is claiming the mayoral post on the basis of their long-term association with the Badals, Amaninder as mayor is an unlikely choice and one that could hamper SAD's prospects in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls."
It is learnt that the senior Bajaj, who has remained the chairman of the Patiala Improvement Trust, had offered to quit as president of SAD's urban unit in the party's previous term, to pave way for another leader.
Meanwhile, all candidates rushed to Delhi to meet Sukbhir and make a last moment bid for their selection. Incumbent Kohli is seeking a second term to continue the development works in the city and citing the "sacrifice" of his father Surjeet Singh Kohli, who contested and was sure to lose against Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh in the assembly polls earlier this year.
On the other hand, Pardhan, the senior-most councillor in the new house, is trying to highlight the fact that he had been serving the party without holding any position till now. He has the backing of rural development minister Surjit Singh Rakhra. Party in-charge for the mayoral polls, education minister Sikander Singh Maluka, is also lobbying for Pardhan.
Similarly, Harpal Juneja would be hoping to get the mayor's post on the strength of his long-time association with information and public relations minister Bikramjeet Singh Majithia. Juneja has also gone to Delhi with his supporters. He is hoping that like in the previous assembly polls, the party would play the Hindu card in the city that has more than 60% of Hindu voters.
The final decision will be taken by Sukhbir on Sunday evening after the final approval of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.