The decision of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to field former Indian basketball player Sajjan Singh Cheema from Sultanpur Lodhi has intensified the race for nomination among Congress leaders in this segment.
With sitting Congress MLA Navtej Cheema and the AAP candidate, both coming from a Jatt Sikh community in a constituency dominated by Kamboj caste voters, the clamour has increased in the Congress to replace Navtej with another strong Kamboj leader and Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder’s loyalist Captain Harminder Singh.
Even as Navtej, who is also the chief whip of the Congress Legislative Party in the Punjab assembly, is nurturing the constituency with dedication to get his re-election but after the AAP ticket to Sajjan, his opponents have roped in all power in convincing the Congress high command to shift him to the Jatt-dominated constituency, possibly Shahkot.
Their claim is that in the present scenario, the division in Jatt Sikh votes within the AAP and the Congress may cost dear to the party.
The SAD probable from the seat and former minister Upinderjit Kaur comes from the Kamboj community having nearly 42% voters in the segment. The vote percentage of Jatt Sikhs in the segment is nearly 27%.
“Since Sultanpur Lodhi is among the only few constituencies in Punjab where the Kamboj community dominates, candidature of a community leader can bring the desired results. In the present circumstances, the division in Jatt votes is likely to give a clear edge to the SAD as the Kamboj community has electoral history of unitedly rallying behind the candidate from its community,” said Mandeep Singh Khinda, a senior Kamboj leader, who was part of the Kamboj delegation that recently met the PPCC chief.
Another contention of this group is that Cheema has lost control over this segment as, during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress trailed by a heavy margin of 11,627 votes to the SAD. While, Cheema is a close associate of the Rajya Sabha member and Congress Campaign Committee convener for Punjab Ambika Soni, Harminder comes from the Captain group and is presently running a special helpline for ex-servicemen, launched by the PCC chief. This helpline, whose head office is situated in Harminder’s office in Jalandhar, is being monitored by Lt General TS Shergill (retired), a close friend of Amarinder is setting chord with ex-army men by resolving their problems.
Notably, the Kamboj community voters are significant in Sultanpur Lodhi, Shahkot, Bholath, Kapurthala and Tanda-Urmur segments of Doaba and political parities generally give one ticket to this community.
Last time, the Congress gave ticket to Col (retd) CD Kamboj from the Shahkot segment of Jalandhar and he managed to reach very close to the vote share taken by transport minister Ajit Singh Kohar only because of the Kamboj factor.
Cheema, when contacted, said time has passed when people used to exercise their right to franchise keeping in view my caste factor.
“Moreover, I enjoy great reputation in the community as well. As far as ticket is concerned, every person has a right to apply and lobby. My preference will remain this segment only as I have worked hard for the people here,” said Cheema.