It won’t be easy for the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to find a suitable candidate for the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat, which has emerged as a Congress citadel in the past decade-and-a-half.
The SAD last won the seat in 1996. Since then, it has tasted defeat despite fielding Naresh Gujral, son of former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, and popular Punjabi singer Hans Raj Hans. Importantly, the reserved constituency has more than 40% voters from the Schedule Caste (SC) community.
With all nine assembly segments of the parliamentary constituency currently represented by the SAD-BJP combine, the ruling party is eyeing a comeback by regaining the Lok Sabha seat.
The frontrunners for the SAD ticket are chief parliamentary secretary (CPS) Pawan Kumar Tinu and Nawanshahr district planning board chairman Dr Sukhwinder Sukhi, even as the Congress is likely to retain sitting MP Mohinder Singh Kaypee.
Tinu, MLA from Adampur constituency and an enterprising Dalit face, had secured 1.58 lakh votes when he contested from the erstwhile Phillaur parliamentary constituency in 2004 on the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket. His maximum share of votes was from Adampur, Phillaur and Nurmahal assembly segments, which are now part of the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat.
During his recent visit to the city, Punjab deputy chief minister and SAD president Sukhbir Badal had showered praise on Tinu and virtually appealed to the gathering to strengthen the latter’s hands indicating the junior Badal’s tilt towards the Adampur MLA for the Lok Sabha ticket.
However, the party high command is reportedly concerned about the Adampur assembly bypoll, which would be necessitated if Tinu gets the ticket and wins the LS seat.
Dr Sukhi, who contested from the Hoshiarpur (reserved) parliamentary constituency in 2009 on the BSP ticket and got about 1.05 lakh votes, joined the SAD after the 2012 assembly polls following Sukhbir’s initiative.
Sukhi, a practising doctor, has reportedly been told by Sukhbir to strengthen his political activities in Jalandhar. He is frequently seen here, but the “outsider” tag could go against him.
“After the Aam Aadmi Party’s entry, the mindset of voters has changed. Professionals like myself, who are willing to work for the people but have no political background, are finding this atmosphere ideal for entering the poll arena. The rest depends on the party chief,” said Dr Sukhi.
Another Dalit leader, cabinet minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur, is also on the SAD list of probables for the Jalandhar seat. He has won six times as an MLA from the district, though his victory margin was rather slender in the 2012 assembly polls, when he contested from Kartarpur. In case he gets the ticket, it would be extremely difficult for the party to retain the assembly seat vacated by him.
From the Congress, Kaypee has already expressed the desire to re-contest, even as state Youth Congress chief Vikramjit Chaudhary has applied for the ticket from Rahul Gandhi’s youth quota. Chaudhary, however, is also a ticket aspirant from Hoshiarpur.
“I am hopeful of getting the ticket with the blessings of Rahulji,” Chaudhary said.
Meanwhile, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), despite having a sizeable vote bank in the constituency, is yet to zero in on its candidate from Jalandhar. Several local leaders are in the fray for the ticket.