With union minister for information and broadcasting Manish Tewari reiterating his keenness to contest again from Ludhiana in the Lok Sabha elections, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) faces an uphill task fielding a strong candidate. Interestingly, more than half a dozen Akali leaders are projecting themselves as contenders for candidature.
The Ludhiana parliamentary seat has swung between the Congress and the SAD over the decades. During the 2012 assembly elections, too, both parties had won six seats each, setting the stage for a close contest in the upcoming polls. The SAD’s alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had failed to win any of the three allocated seats in Ludhiana’s urban constituencies.
Of the names cropping up for the SAD-BJP alliance, the frontrunners include Dakha MLA Manpreet Singh Ayali; Mansa MLA and Ludhiana’s former senior deputy mayor Prem Mittal; and Kamal Oswal, industrial adviser to the Punjab chief minister.
According to sources, there is a strong lobby in favour of Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal, political adviser to the CM, while another is apparently backing SS Channi, a senior bureaucrat who served in Ludhiana as the deputy commissioner from 1990 to 1996.
Meanwhile, the growing dissent in the Punjab Congress has come as an opportunity for several party leaders to oppose Tewari’s candidature from Ludhiana. Gurkanwal Kaur, former Congress cabinet minister and daughter of late chief minister Beant Singh, is also a contender, besides former Raikot MLA Harmohinder Pradhan.
The rising popularity of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the industrial city might make it a three-horse race. Supreme Court lawyer HS Phoolka, who has been waging a legal battle for victims of 1984 riots, is among the frontrunners for the AAP ticket. If he gets it, Phoolka is expected to draw votes from the considerable chunk of urban Sikh population that migrated from other states after the riots.
Other names that have surfaced include that of RTI activist Balbir Aggarwal.
Profiles of SAD contenders
Manpreet Singh Ayali: Defeated arch-rival and Congress candidate Jassi Khangura from Dakha in the 2012 assembly elections. He has emerged as a ‘go-getter’ in the SAD’s Ludhiana unit.
Kamal Oswal: Managing director of Nahar Group of Companies and industrial adviser to Punjab CM comes from one of the most reputed business houses of Ludhiana. Boasts of deep pockets.
Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal: A lawyer by profession, he is the political adviser to the CM. Once a loyalist of the Tohra group, he now enjoys a special place in the Badal brigade. His ability to win over SAD rebels gives him an edge over competitors.
Prem Mittal: Mansa MLA took initiatives during tenure as Ludhiana’s councillor and senior deputy mayor. Being a representative of the urban Hindu community, he fits the bill.
SS Channy: Senior Punjab-cadre IAS officer served as deputy commissioner of Ludhiana in the 1990s. Known as an upright, non-controversial officer, he is married to granddaughter of late President Giani Zail Singh and belongs to Ramgarhia community that holds sizeable influence in Ludhiana.
Ludhiana parliamentary seat has never been the stronghold of any party. The results of Lok Sabha polls since 1991:
Year Winner Party
1991 Gurcharan Singh Galib Congress
1996 Amrik Singh Aliwal SAD
1998 Amrik Singh Aliwal SAD
1999 Gurcharan Singh Galib Congress
2004 Sharanjit Singh Dhillon SAD
2009 Manish Tewari Congress