Lok Sabha election: Hindu-Sikh, loyalty factors at play as Congress takes a call on candidates in Punjab
With members of the state screening committee of the Punjab Congress rooting for their loyalists, five Lok Sabha seats are being seen as Hindu or Sikh-dominated depending on who is pitching for whom.
Amid reports that former Ludhiana MP Manish Tewari may be fielded from the Anandpur Sahib seat, being seen by the Congress as its safest bet, the party’s three district chiefs from the constituency — Brinder Dhillon (Rupnagar), Deepinder Dhillon (Mohali) and Prem Chand (Nawanshahar) — have shot off a letter to Congress president Rahul Gandhi seeking ticket to a Jat Sikh.
“The seat has 65% Sikh voters, including scheduled castes (SCs) and other backward classes (OBCs) such as Sainis and Ramgarhias. Of this, 70% are Jat Sikhs. The seat has elected Jat Sikhs after delimitation in 2008. Ravneet Bittu of the Congress and Prem Singh Chandumajra of the Akali Dal won from the seat in 2009 and 2014,” the letter says.
Both Bittu and Chandumajra are Jat Sikhs.
Tewari’s candidature is being pushed by chief minister Amarinder Singh and Congress general secretary in-charge of Punjab, Asha Kumari, on grounds that Anandpur Sahib has more Hindu voters.
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar is supporting his aide, Captain Sandeep Sandhu, a clean-shaven Sikh who doubles up as general secretary in-charge of Punjab Congress office and political secretary of Amarinder. Other Jat Sikh contenders eyeing the ticket are Punjab Youth Congress president Amarpreet Lally, former minister Rana Gurjit Singh besides former MLA Kewal Dhillon’s son Karan Dhillon and former minister Jagmohan Singh Kang’s son Yadwinder Singh Kang. The party has already one Hindu face in Jakhar, who is sitting Gurdaspur MP and all set to be re-nominated despite his archrival and Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa staking his claim to his old seat, which he calls as Sikh-dominated.
Though the letter counts the Sainis as Sikhs, they are seeking their own nomination on the basis of numbers. “We make 30% of the population of the state and no representation has been given to us in the state cabinet or 13 Lok Sabha seats after the 2008 delimitation. The Sainis form a large chunk of voters in Anandpur Sahib and all OBCs have decided to support each other’s candidature,” says Kamaldeep Saini, one of the party ticket applicants.
The Hindu versus Sikh seat fight is also brewing in Ferozepur. Its leaders are seeking ticket for a Hindu saying the community makes nearly 48% of the segment’s population, including OBCs such as Kambojs and Sarafs.
State sports minister Rana Gurmit Sodhi, Jakhar’s bete noire, is among contenders from here. A Khatri Sikh, Rana has drummed up support of Hindu leaders Anish Sadana, also a ticket applicant, former minister Hans Raj Joshan and former MLA Mohinder Rinwa. They are expected to meet the CM on Saturday to oppose candidature of Raminder Awla, a former Punjab Congress chief, who has business interests in Uttar Pradesh.
The local leaders call Awla, who has backing of Jakhar, an outsider. It is learnt that Sadana and Sodhi have decided to support each other in case either is fielded. They had earlier met the CM to oppose ticket to Akali turncoat Sher Singh Ghubaya who is already giving nervous moments to the party by launching his poll campaign without the party’s go-ahead.
In Sangrur, the CM is keen on his confidant Kewal Dhillon while other screening panel members see it as a Hindu seat. If Sangrur goes to a Sikh, the panel may have to zero in on a Hindu face in Bathinda, Ferozepur or Anandpur Sahib.
Which of these seats will finally go to a Hindu will depend on who Akalis field from Bathinda or Ferozepur. The Congress, which is basking in falling political graph of the Akali Dal, may have to relook at its religion and caste arithmetic if SAD president Sukhbir Badal, and his wife and Union minister Harsinrat Badal, both take a poll position. The final call will also depend on whether it forges an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).