Akalis ahead of Cong
Riding on internecine war in the party and delay in declaration of names of candidates by the ruling Congress, the main opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and its ally BJP in Punjab have surged ahead of their rivals in campaiging for the May ten Lok Sabha polls in Punjab.
Barring for a seat or two of the total 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, it appears a direct contest between SAD-BJP combine with the ruling Congress.
However, as far as taking a lead in the process of campaigning is concerned, SAD-BJP alliance had left Congress far behind.
While the SAD-BJP had announced candidates for 12 seats, the Congress high command had yet to name party candidates for as many as seven seats.
Veteran Akali leader Parkash Singh Badal-led SAD is fielding its candidates on ten seats leaving three seats of Amritsar, Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur for its ally BJP.
The Congress high command had so far cleared names of Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder (Gurdaspur), Praneet Kaur (Patiala), Santosh Chaudhary (Phillaur-R), RL Bhatia (Amritsar) and Shamsher Singh Dullo (Ropar-R).
In a departure from the past practice, the SAD supremo Badal had pinned his hope more on candidates who would try their luck for the first time to make an entry in the Lok Sabha.
In a contrast to its rivals, the ruling Congress has preferred candidates who had tried their luck in previous polls to the Lok Sabha.
Even as Congress unit of Punjab has already sent panels consisting names of prospective candidates to the High Command there has been delay at the top level in clearing these names, Congress sources said here adding that the inordinate delay in announcing candidates had been giving a benefit to rivals as far as the process of election campaigning was concerned.
Certain Congress leaders who are supposed to exhibit unity when the Lok Sabha polls are round the corner are indulging in leg pulling albeit clandestinely, sources said.
While Balbir Singh, a Congress MP in the dissolved house has refused to contest again from the prestigious Jalandhar parliamentary seat, fire-brand former congress MP Jagmeet Singh Brar has made up his mind to give his traditional Faridkot constituency a skip in favour of Ferozepur in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.
Deputy chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, who hogged headlines in the fag end of the previous year for her open revolt alongwith her coterie against the Chief Minister, has turned down the idea of some section of partymen to field her from Sangrur seat.
Charanjit Singh Channi, who won from the Hoshiarpur seat on Congress ticket in 1999, has shown reluctance in trying his luck from the same seat this time.
As the CPI (M) had put up Darshan Singh Mattu from the Hoshiarpur Seat, the Congress would have to leave this seat for this party.
Commenting on the reported tussle in the ruling Congress in Punjab, a party spokesman said that the differences among leaders were an internal matter of the party.
"I am sure all top leaders of Punjab Congress will campaign unitedly and win on all the seats," he said exuding confidence.
For the SAD, Zora Singh Mann (Ferozepur), Sukhbir Singh Badal (Faridkot) and Charanjit Singh Atwal would be trying their luck again to enter into parliament.
The party believed to having a mass base in rural areas of the agrarian state, had fielded sitting MLA Rattan Singh Ajna la from Tarn Taran, Union minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa from Sangrur, sitting MLA capt Kanwaljit Singh from Patiala, sittin Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Libra (Ropar-R), youth SAD chief Sharanjit Singh Dhillon from Ludhiana, and son of former Prime Minister I K Gujral Naresh Gujral from Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat.
While Ajnala, Dhindsa, Kanwaljit Singh, Libra (who is retiring as Rajya sabha member in April) Dhillon and Gujral are trying their luck for the first time to make an entry into the Lok Sabha, Zora Singh Mann and Sukhbir Singh Badal had earlier contested for three and two times respectively.
Mann is seeking re-election for the third consecutive time whereas Parkash Singh Badal's son Sukhbir Singh who had lost the last poll by a meagre margin of five votes had secured victory once.
Even as political pundits observe that the SAD had an added advantage this time as Akali stalwarts like SGPC chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra who fielded their candidates on Panthic Morcha tickets against SAD nominees are united, the Akalis are finding opposition within the party from Sangrur, Ludhiana and Tarn Taran seats.
Former MLA and wife of Andhra Pradesh Governor S S Barnala, Surjeet Kaur Barnala, had maintained that her stake for the Sangrur seat claiming that her husband had represented this seat thrice.
SAD had invited trouble from Tarn Taran seat also after expelling senior party leader Tarlochan Singh Tur from the party on the ground of anti-party activities.
The SAD's ally BJP had announced candidates for Gurdaspur (Vinod Khanna) and Hoshiarpur (Avinash Rai Khanna) seat and the party had yet to announce candidate for Amritsar constituency.
While actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna is seeking re-election for the third consecutive time, Punjab BJP chief and sitting MLA Avinash Rai Khanna is contesting parliamentary polls for the first time.
Both the Congress and the SAD-BJP combine are reaching the people by levelling accusations of corruption against each other.
BJP stalwarts like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy prime minister L K Advani had addressed election rallies in Punjab in favour of SAD and BJP candidates.
SAD leader Badal had already addressed series of rallies for party candidates in several constituencies.
The ruling Congress had yet to kick start its campaign. The party is expected to do so with the roadshow of Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi in the first week of April.