Lok Sabha Elections 2019: AAP won’t find it easy to name candidates in key Punjab seats
The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was first off the blocks by naming its nominees for eight of the 13 Lok Sabha constituencies in Punjab, but it is still to select candidates for key seats in the state.
The AAP, which won four seats with 25% of the total votes polled in the 2014 parliamentary polls, has not declared its candidates for Bathinda, Patiala, Khadoor Sahib, Ferozepur and Ludhiana seats so far. Though most of these constituencies have all the makings of gripping contests with high-profile contestants being fielded by rival parties, the principal opposition party appears to be struggling to find candidates. The AAP had announced its candidates for five seats in October last year following it up with another three last month.
The party state leadership considered fielding some legislators, including Kotkapura MLA Kultar Singh Sandhwan and Sunam MLA Aman Arora from Bathinda and Patiala or Ludhiana, respectively, at one stage to bolster its prospects, but they expressed unwillingness to contest. “There is still some time. We will pick candidates from among the party volunteers,” said AAP core committee chairman Budh Ram.
BATHINDA A MATTER OF PRESTIGE
The Bathinda Lok Sabha seat, which saw a no-holds-barred battle between sitting MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal and her estranged brother-in-law Manpreet Singh Badal in 2014, is a matter of prestige for the AAP this time. Rebel leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who quit and set up his Punjab Ekta Party (PEP) three months ago, is in the fray with three of the party’s disgruntled MLAs openly supporting him. The AAP would not want to lag behind Khaira.
Though AAP leaders were in touch with former Congress MP Jagmeet Singh Brar to join the party and contest from Bathinda till two weeks ago, talks did not materialise. Party sources said the names of local leaders Amritpal Agarwal, Dr Vijay Singla and Amardeep Rajan were being considered. In 2014, the party had fielded Jassi Jasraj who polled 87,000 votes, but he switched sides to the Lok Insaaf Party last month and is taking on AAP state chief and sitting MP Bhagwant Mann in Sangrur.
In Patiala Lok Sabha constituency, which the party won in 2014 with Dr Dharamvira Gandhi as its candidate and is set to witness a keen contest again this time, former army officer Colonel Bhalinder Singh (retd), co-convener Balbir Singh, Hari Singh Tohra are among the party leaders whose names are doing the rounds. While the Congress has fielded chief minister Amarinder Singh’s wife and three-time former MP Preneet Kaur, Dharamvira Gandhi, who has floated his Nava Punjab Party, is contesting again.
Similarly, Tarn Taran district unit chief Bhupinder Singh Bittu and youth wing chief Manjinder Sidhu are in consideration for Khadoor Sahib where SAD has fielded former SGPC president Bibi Jagir Kaur and former army chief JJ Singh is contesting from SAD (Taksali). Paramjit Kaur Khalra, widow of human rights activist Jaswant Khalra, is in the fray as the PEP candidate.
‘RIFT LEFT CADRES DISAPPOINTED’
A party leader said continuous internal bickering and finger-pointing had left the cadres disappointed. “We have to tread carefully in seats such as Bathinda and Patiala where the party rebels are in the fray to avoid embarrassment later,” he said, requesting anonymity.
However, leader of opposition Harpal Singh Cheema said the candidate selection process was underway and the nominees for at least two seats would be announced in next couple of days. “We will field local, non-controversial candidates having a clean image. As it happened in 2014 and 2017, they will be in the contest from day one,” he added.