It is a classic dilemma for the Congress before every Punjab election. Too many ticket aspirants, as many patrons. As the party raced against the clock to declare candidates on a third of its pending seats before filing of nominations starts from Wednesday for the February 4 polls, party's poll strategist Prashant Kishor is not complaining.
His team, Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC), which is mapping voters through various campaigns, has run out of the 'kits' promising one job, per family! The reason? The many ticket seekers are competing with each other to distribute them as the party takes its time to choose the "right" one. In fact, party sources revealed that encouraging more contenders was a part of Kishor's strategy to ensure they compete with each other to get crowds for party's flagship campaigns — Coffee with Captain and Halke Vich Captain — and registering voters for campaigns fashioned to promote poll promises such as 50-lakh smart phones to youth and debt waiver to farmers.
Congress versus Congress
Garhshankar may come across as a mundane seat. But it forced the IPAC to order fresh supplies of "job cards" as all the three main ticket contenders — former MLA Love Kumar Goldy, party spokesperson Nimisha Mehta and Punjab Youth Congress chief Amarpreet Singh Lally — are busy distributing them. Goldy says he has been nurturing the seat for last five years after he lost it in the 2012 polls.
"I am a two-time MLA and the first to defeat communists from this seat in 2002 polls. I am not waiting for a formal announcement of my name and already campaigning in my seat. Most of the party workers are with me. But the delay in announcement of the candidate is confusing workers. Both AAP and SAD candidates are busy campaigning while we are suffering," says Goldy, who is learnt to have the backing of general secretary in-charge of Punjab affairs, Asha Kumari.
Nimisha, on her part, is banking on party's criteria to allot seats to more youth and women. "I have campaigned door to door to meet families of farmers to enlist them for party's debt-waiver promise and later for distributing kits promising jobs to youth. I have my roots in Garhshankar and I had taken 450 SUVs to the Congress protest against the demonetisation," says Nimisha, who is camping at Delhi. According to party sources, Nimisha has the support of Congress Legislature Party leader Charanjit Singh Channi.
Then there is Punjab Youth Congress chief Amarpreet Singh Lally, who like Nimisha, is staying put at Delhi. Lally says he too has been distributing job scheme "kits" to families at their doorsteps. He is learnt to have the support of Indian Youth Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring.
Congress versus Akali turncoats
On the 40 seats where the party has yet to name candidates, there is also Dera Bassi where Congress-turned-Akali-turned-Congress leader Deepinder Dhillon is campaigning without waiting for his party's announcement. But the other contender, Manpreet Singh 'Bunny' Sandhu, is not giving up the fight either. There are more. Jaspal Singh ‘Sarpanch’, Amit Bawa and Kuljit Randhawa. The hopes of them all hinge on Dhillon being denied the ticket owing to the divide within the party senior leaders on fielding Akali turncoats.
During Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh's Halke Vich Captain programme at the seat, Dhillon, Sandhu and Jaspal had displayed their crowd-pulling abilities by putting up their banners outside the venue.
The numbers game
But amid the tug-of-war for tickets, the job promise of the Congress is making up the numbers. According to the IPAC, nearly 34-lakh youth have been registered under the 'Har Ghar Captain' scheme that promises one job, per family and a ₹2,500 monthly jobless allowance up to 36 months.
Another 34-lakh families have been registered under the debt-waiver scheme for farmers. The numbers are higher than the actual number of farmer families in Punjab, but Kishor's team claims others signed the forms to support the Congress effort. For Amarinder's promise of 50-lakh smartphones, the IPAC claims 30-lakh youth have registered till closing of the online scheme on December 10. But it is not the shortfall that the team is looking at.
"There is an overlap of 32% between job and smart phones schemes in terms of applicants. But the remaining 68% applicants in the job scheme are new," one of the IPAC members told HT. The gain? They have been able to get 30-lakh youth voters in their database and even if 10-lakh translate into votes, the promise is worth the effort.