It is not the first time the Congress is making its ticket aspirants sign loyalty pledges. But do they help? So far, the party has had no such luck.
The application forms released by the party for 2017 state elections once again come with a loyalty pledge asking ticket aspirants to submit an attested declaration that if not selected for any constituency, they “will not contest against the Congress candidate but support the chosen one”.
But the same pledge was also part of the 2012 and earlier elections. Still 22 Congress contenders who signed it in 2012 contested as rebels. Many are back in the party for the 2017 round of elections. All they have to do is sign another loyalty pledge!
There was a “rebel twist” to the tale of highest victory margins of both deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and his brother-in-law, (revenue minister) Bikram Singh Majithia, in the 2012 polls. Sukhbir pulled a victory against Congress rebel Hansraj Joshan from Jalalabad by more than 50,000 votes and Majithia against another Congress rebel, Sukhjinder Raj Singh ‘Lalli Majithia’, by 47,581 votes.
At both places, official Congress candidates Milkit Singh and Shailenderjit Singh Shelly finished third.
Both Joshan and Majithia are back in the Congress fold for the next round as “top contenders”. Malkit and Shelly, party’s youth faces, are out in the woods.
If you win as a rebel, you stand a greater chance of being rewarded with a ticket in the next election, even if it demands a round of musical chairs! Madan Lal Jalalpur, once loyalist of former Congress minister Jasjit Randhawa, had contested as a rebel and defeated Randhawa in 2007 from Ghanaur. In 2012, Jalalpur again got the Congress ticket, while Randhawa was shifted to Dera Bassi, from where he lost, this time in a triangular contest foisted by another party rebel, Deepinder Dhillon. The latter made a grand entry to the Congress this year and is seen as top contender for the seat. Jalalpur has been “promised” Ghanaur this time, too.
Similarly, at Pathankot, Ashok Sharma, independent candidate who rebelled against Congress candidate Raman Bhalla is back and so is Naresh Puri, who had rebelled against party nominee Vinay Mahajan from neighbouring Sujanpur. In both places, the Congress lost. Bhalla was second In Pathankot and Puri in Sujanpur. At Kotkapura, Opinder Sharma, who rebelled against Ripjit Brar, is back in the party, while Ripjit is in political wilderness after his elder brother, Jagmeet Brar, turned “rebel” and was expelled from the Congress this year.
Rebels who turned winners
While most rebels played spoilsport in 2012 , those who won got instant recognition. In Mukerian for instance, the Congress was quick to make truce offer to rebel candidate Rajnish Kumar Babbi who won and pushed the Congress candidate to the third spot.
Since Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi announced to allot more than 35 seats to youth and Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh endorsed it, many in the party fear the rebel trouble may revisit from the old guard in 2017. Amarinder, in his report card to the party, had blamed rebels as one of the reasons for the 2012 poll drubbing. During the elections, he had openly accused Sukhbir of propping rebels by paying them “crores of rupees”. In 10 seats, the difference between the winner and the runner-up was less than 1,000 votes. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) won nine of these seats and the Congress one, which shows how rebels can turn the scales. But loyalty pledges may not do the trick for the Congress, not until they come with bonus points for breaking them!