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Punjab polls: Is Congress playing politics of surveys?

Which survey is holding ground as Congress decides its candidates in Punjab? If you believe Punjab Congress in-charge Asha Kumari, it is the surveys done by All India Congress Committee (AICC) and Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee and not of poll strategist Prashant Kishor's team, I-PAC.

punjab Updated: Dec 31, 2016 11:17 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Punjab polls
Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh.(HT File Photo)

Which survey is holding ground as Congress decides its candidates in Punjab? If you believe Punjab Congress in-charge Asha Kumari, it is the surveys done by All India Congress Committee (AICC) and Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee and not of poll strategist Prashant Kishor's team, I-PAC.

If you go by what Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh says, multiple surveys have been done by PPCC to hunt for "winnable" candidates. And if some highly placed sources within the party are to be trusted, Prashant's surveys are being collated with those done by Rahul's confidant and secretary in-charge for Punjab, Harish Chaudhary. 

Never mind the source, the Congress seems to be once again playing the politics of surveys. Kharar MLA Jagmohan Kang, who did not figure in the first list of 61 candidates released by the party, over "unfavourable" survey reports, made it to the second list as surveys turned favourable in the next round.

When asked about it at a recent press conference at Chandigarh, Amarinder said the survey reports of Kang were always favourable. "Have you seen my surveys to question whether Kang's rating was high or not," was Amarinder's counter-question to the media. According to party sources, after both former Union ministers, Pawan Bansal and Manish Tewari, expressed their unwillingness to contest from Kharar, he was told by Amarinder that his recent survey reports had "improved" over those conducted earlier. A relieved Kang has sent mass messages to mobilise voters after his name came in the second list.   

Survey reports are also being cited by the party at the Sahnewal seat where singer Satwinder Bitti is a contender. Bitti's name had almost been given a green signal for the party's second list that was released last week. But the party is now citing surveys for her name being first cleared and then being dropped.

The logic? One faction of the party believes Bitti's name is being pushed by Amarinder and surveys are just an excuse. But another faction says her surveys are again looking good and she may be through. "For the Congress, Sahnewal is not a winning seat against Akali minister Sharanjit Dhillon. How does it matter who is fielded from here? Some seats are for appeasement and it is one of them," claims a party leader wryly. 

It was not the shoe hurled by Banga MLA Tarlochan Singh Soondh that denied him a ticket. The party is citing "poor" surveys. Now that Soondh had raised the banner of revolt and may turn a rebel on January 4 for which he is sending mass messages to observe the 29th death anniversary of his father, former Congress MLA Jagat Ram, at their native village, the party is trying to placate him. "If Soondh is not in a position to win, he may play a spoiler for the party there. He has a family legacy in politics and it will have serious repercussions for the party," a Congress MLA said, requesting anonymity.

Even for the Amloh seat, sitting MLA Randeep Nabha was said to be "trailing" in the survey reports against former Peoples Party of Punjab (PPP) leader Jagdeep Sahota.There is no love lost between Amarinder and Randeep. After the latter made it to the first list, a section in the Congress believes Sahota has the backing of not just Randeep’s political opponents in SAD but even vested interests within Congress to oppose Randeep's candidature. 

Likewise, Sunam candidate Daman Bajwa is learnt to have not done well in the party surveys. As she faces a revolt from another contender Rajinder Deepa, there are many theories on why she was fielded at the first place. Among them, one is that the former Punjab NSUI president was favoured by screening committee head, former Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, who too started his political innings from NSUI. The other is she was being favoured by a close aide of Amarinder and a third, that she is the choice of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi's team that wants more youth faces. 

The candidature of Sukhpal Bhullar from Khemkaran too is being seen as "appeasement" by his detractors. Sukhpal himself admits that Amarinder had promised him a ticket in this polls after he withdrew from the race last time. Sukhpal's father, former minister Gurchet Bhullar, who was favouring his elder son Anoop, too claims he was a "winning" candidate in the surveys. 

These are just the bushfires in the 77 seats announced so far. The party is dreading a bigger inferno when the remaining contentious 40 seats are announced. The Congress blames its drubbing in the 2012 elections to SAD president Sukhbir Badal’s "funding" its rebels. But it seems to be heading towards a similar situation this time round too.