In this royal city, with the candidature of sitting Congress MP and minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur all but certain, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is finding it tough to select a candidate who can match the Maharani of erstwhile Patiala royalty, despite the fact that this time she is also on a slippery wicket.
For the Congress, Preneet is the natural choice and she already has started campaigning in the constituency. When the Congress selection committee invited applications for ticket allotment, no one except Preneet, who is a three-time MP, applied from Patiala.
In the last three elections, Preneet had trounced Akali stalwarts Capt Kanwaljit Singh, Prem Singh Chandumajra and Surjit Singh Rakhra. Despite pitting heavyweights against her, the Akalis have failed to even reduce the margin of defeat, which is growing every time and had crossed 1 lakh votes in the 2009 elections. Thus, the Akalis are finding it tough to match Preneet.
However, the situation has changed considerably after the 2012 assembly polls, as not only the Patiala scion Capt Amarinder Singh-led Punjab Congress lost the chance to form the government, his son Raninder Singh lost on home turf Samana, from where Preneet had fielded him. Besides, the Congress lost five Samana, Patran, Dera Bassi, Shutrana and Ghanaur of the nine assembly segments under Patiala parliamentary seat.
Congressman-turned-Akali leader Deepinder Singh Dhillon is leading the race for the ticket, while minister for rural development Surjit Singh Rakhra wants the candidature for his brother Charanjit Singh.
The Rakhras had emerged as giant-killers when they defeated Raninder Singh from Samana, an election that Charanjit actively fought for his elder brother. Earlier, the SAD intended to pit one of the Rakhra brothers against Preneet. But, SAD president Sukhbir Badal seems to have changed his mind as he has reportedly received the feedback that Rakhra failed to nurture the constituency. However, the party can think of awarding the ticket to Rakhra, who is not interested in contesting himself, it being a no-win situation for him – if he wins, he would lose the ministry; if he loses to Preneet, he would lose face as well.
In this political equation, Dhillon, a former key aide of Preneet, is best suited for the SAD to challenge his former political guru. Dhillon was denied the ticket by the Congress in the 2012 assembly polls from Dera Bassi, from where Congress candidate Jasjit Singh Randhawa forfeited security by polling only 9,000 votes, while Dhillon, though he lost, polled around 60,000 votes. His vote bank, clubbed with that of SAD MLA NK Sharma, could cost the Congress dear in the Lok Sabha polls.
Besides, Dhillon is non-controversial and all Akali groups of the district could support him. He knows the ins and outs of the Congress and can manage to bring in more Congressmen into the SAD fold. The SAD has already appointed him chairman of the District Planning Board. He has the strong backing of revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who brought him into the SAD.
Though there are rumours that Akalis can field a film star or some other celebrity, the chances are remote.
From the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), local medical practitioner Dr Dharambir Gandhi, who has a clean image, leads the race in which local coordinator Kundan Gogia is also trying for the ticket.