It is a poll ritual. All the 1,600-odd Congress ticket applicants had signed a ‘loyalty’ pledge to accept the official candidate announced by the party and not unfurl a banner of revolt.
But between 2012 and 2017 elections, the Congress is battling more of its old woes. After a delayed distribution of tickets, the Congress is once again fighting its own as withdrawal of nominations ends on Saturday.
In a remake of 2012 elections, when Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh had inadvertently announced a “qatal-e-aam” (massacre) of rebels at a rally, Capt on Friday again issued an ultimatum to party rebels to “toe the party line or face expulsion from the party for life”.
Before the stick, Amarinder had dangled the carrot — by promising to accommodate in key positions those who withdrew from the fray in support of the party nominees, after the Congress came to power.
But with many of them still defiant and the party worried by unconfirmed reports of deputy chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal again propping Congress rebels with “funds”, Amarinder said in a statement on Friday that he and general secretary in-charge of Punjab affairs Asha Kumari have successfully quashed rebellion in most of the 20-odd constituencies where there have been reports of rebel trouble. The unofficial list has nearly 29 rebels, some of them with potential to seriously dent party prospects.
But the bushfires are far from over. And party insiders believe much of the Congress woes are self-inflicted. “Banga MLA Tarlochan Soondh and Gurbinder Singh Atwal were denied tickets not owing to surveys but for being close to Amarinder’s known baiter, Rajya Sabha MP Shamsher Singh Dullo. Both are now contesting as rebels from Banga and Nakodar, respectively, and will dent party’s prospects there,” party sources said.
Party spokesperson Nimisha Mehta denied she has agreed to withdraw from the race from Garhshankar seat. “Asha called me up on Friday asking me to withdraw. I challenge her to show me the surveys that show Luv Kumar Goldy as a winner from this seat. It was Asha Kumari who played favourites in the ticket game,” Nimisha said.
Some Congress MLAs also question if surveys decided the candidates of Ludhiana South and Sunam seats. “The surveys were just an excuse to adjust loyalists. And while Amarinder wanted enough of his own to ensure he can be the CM, other MPs and screening committee members too have served their own interests. Surveys and ‘one family, one ticket’ rule were used as elimination round for others,” a senior MLA said.
Past rebels who got lucky
Though the Congress has loyalty affidavits, if you rebel, you stand a greater chance of being rewarded with a ticket in the next election. Past rebels who lost elections but dented the party prospects, such as Sukhjinder Singh ‘Lalli’ Majithia, Madan Lal Jalalpur and Deepinder Dhillon, have been allotted tickets this time. So has Rajnish Kumar ‘Babbi’, who won as a rebel from Mukerian.