Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Rivals in disarray in Punjab, but is it advantage Congress?
The May 19 Lok Sabha election in Punjab will be a mid-term litmus test for the Congress which has completed two years in office in the state. With a patchy report card, the party’s ‘Mission-13’ hinges more on the woes of faction-riven rivals, Akalis and AAP. But the party’s worst fears stem from Modi’s trump card on national security.
A look at the five key members of Congress in the government and the party:
CAPT AMARINDER SINGH, PUNJAB CHIEF MINISTER
He has to keep up the good show after the most decisive mandate in favour of the Congress in state’s poll history. The 77-year-old ex-soldier has used the heating up of Indo-Pak tensions to be one up on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Pakistan-bashing. It may have partly assuaged the Hindu vote bank which was growing anxious with the party’s overly Panthic pitch on the sacrilege issue to throw Akalis off balance. The LS results will be a decider on the challenges he will face from within the party.
SUNIL JAKHAR, PUNJAB CONGRESS CHIEF
A prominent Hindu face of the Punjab Congress, Jakhar has bounced back even after he was a surprise loser in the 2017 assembly polls, thanks largely to his follow-up victory in the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll. A trenchant critic of SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, he is set to be again fielded from Gurdaspur which may be a tough nut to crack this time, if the Modi magic works in the Hindu-majority seat bordering Pakistan. Known to speak his mind, Jakhar has a clean image and penchant to make headlines. The outcome of Lok Sabha polls will influence Jakhar’s role in the state’s power politics.
NAVJOT SIDHU, LOCAL BODIES MINISTER
The most sought-after star campaigner of the Congress after party’s win in three states in December last, Sidhu’s appeal knows no borders. But his friendship with Pakistan PM Imran Khan has lent an artillery to the opposition. After his controversial hug with Pak army chief, Sidhu walked away with accolades from Sikhs for championing the cause of Kartarpur corridor. His strident Badal-bashing appeals to Congress rank and file, a section of which accuse Amarinder of being “soft on the Badals”. Added to his profile is his proximity to the Gandhis. Liked and hated in equal measure, even his detractors admit that a few can rival Sidhu’s crowd-pulling abilities and flair for political punches. 2019 will decide his position in 2022.
MANPREET BADAL, FINANCE MINISTER
From being the flavour of 2012 state polls when his slogan of Arab spring in Punjab saw houseful rallies, Manpreet is now working behind the scenes. The Badal family rebel was left in political wildness after his breakaway faction failed. He is now keeping peace with those at the helm and has won high command’s trust as party’s poster boy against the GST. With the Congress waiting for the Akalis to declare if Harsimrat is staying put in Bathinda, a Badal versus Badal clash cannot be ruled out if party asks Manpreet to avenge his defeat in last elections.
PRATAP SINGH BAJWA, RAJYA SABHA MP
Pushed to political margins after he was upstaged as state Congress chief in 2016 by Amarinder Singh, Bajwa still holds sway in Gurdaspur which he won in 2009 Lok Sabha polls and lost in 2014. With Jakhar ensconcing himself on Bajwa’s turf, the Rajya Sabha MP’s next political move will be dictated by the Congress’s performance in Punjab.