The screening committee of the Congress headed by former Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot for Punjab elections is treading cautiously on seats that can trigger bushfires. Adopting the policy of “minimum damage”, a majority of names or seats in the party’s first list of 61 are “non-contentious”.
The list betrays party’s own discomfort at the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal’s rhetoric that it is “accepting its rejects and has no winnable candidates of its own” at a time there are differences within the Congress on fielding “turncoats” from the ruling alliance. All the six MLAs, who have joined the Congress in last one month, have been kept out of the list, including Navjot Kaur Sidhu, Pargat Singh, Sarwan Singh Phillaur, Inderbir Singh Bolaria, Rajwinder Kaur Bagike and Maheshinder Singh.
Those who had joined the Congress from the Akali Dal early this year, also have been kept in the waiting list. These include Deepinder Dhillon, who is eyeing the Dera Bassi seat, and Harry Mann who wants Samana. But the fact that the seats they represent as MLAs or are vying for are yet to be decided shows the Congress will try to pacify rebels to humour the “turncoats”.
While Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has assured Navjot Kaur and Pargat tickets from home seats, the announcement of Pargat’s name from Jalandhar Cantt could cause former MLA and candidate Jagbir Brar to rebel. Mann’s candidature will face revolt by none other than senior MLA Lal Singh, who is eyeing Samana seat for his son Rajinder Singh. The result? Both Samana and Lal Singh’s own seat, Sanaur, have been kept on hold.
Like Lal Singh, there is twist in the tale of the seven other MLAs not on the first list. Of its 43 sitting MLAs, including Rajnish Kumar Babbi, who has remained an independent member of the state assembly from Mukerian after he was won as an independent after being denied a Congress ticket, the party has fielded 31. Kharar seat of MLA Jagmohan Kang is not on the list. Party sources claim Kang is “not looking good in the party surveys but he is defiant”. And it is not just another seat for Amarinder, who would do all it takes to ensure Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Kanwar Sandhu is defeated.
Likewise, in Samrala the party has yet to decide whether it should go for its sitting MLA Amrik Singh Dhillon, who is 74, or his grandson Karanvir Dhillon who too has applied for the seat. The popularity rating of the grandfather is “higher” in the surveys. In Ludhiana, there is a tussle on the Ludhiana north seat of MLA Rakesh Pandey. Dropping Pandey, a loyalist of Bhattal, will not hurt Amarinder but “harmless” Pandey has many sympathisers among the Ludhiana team of the Congress. The Gidderbaha seat of MLA Amrinder Singh Raja Warring is also not on the list. Warring, party insiders said, is interested in the Muktsar seat. Which also party explains why neither Muktsar seat nor its MLA Karan Brar, is not on the list. The other part is that Amarinder was interested in fielding Bhai Kuku from Muktsar.
Jaito MLA Joginder Singh is not on the list. He fits into the “swap of only reserved seats” formula of Amarinder. Another SC MLA Mohammad Sadiq too finds no mention in the list and may be shuffled around in the second list. A big surprise is in MLA Tarlochan Singh Soondh not finding any mention in the first list. The MLA, who has gained popularity as the “shoe-hurler” in the last assembly session too represents Banga, a reserved seat. The remaining four sitting MLAs are Preneet Kaur, Guriqbal Kaur, Charanjit Bajwa and Gurcharan Singh Boparai who have opted out for family. Boparai’s brother, Dr Amar Singh, is the Raikot MLA.
EX-MOGA DC GETS TICKET FROM GILL
In the first list of 61 seats, names of candidates for 17 out of Punjab’s 34 reserved seats have been announced. Former Moga DC Kuldeep Singh Vaid has got the ticket from the Gill reserved constituency. Of the six women on the list, four have been fielded from the reserved constituencies, including sitting MLA Harchand Kaur, Aruna Chaudhary, Ranjit Kaur Batti and Satkar Kaur.