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Captain turning Congress into mini Akali Dal?

It is for a reason that the Congress was the last to declare its candidates. Those denied tickets cannot jump ship when other parties have already set the sail. But this time round, the party seems to be eyeing an altogether different goal — to rock the boats of other parties by courting their rebels.The prophecy of Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh that the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) will see an exodus to his party is coming true even before the poll code of conduct has kicked in.

Punjab polls 2017 Updated: Dec 09, 2016 14:53 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times
Captain Amarinder Singh,Sukhbir Badal,SAD
Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh(HT File Photo)

It is for a reason that the Congress was the last to declare its candidates. Those denied tickets cannot jump ship when other parties have already set the sail. But this time round, the party seems to be eyeing an altogether different goal — to rock the boats of other parties by courting their rebels.

The prophecy of Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh that the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) will see an exodus to his party is coming true even before the poll code of conduct has kicked in. The inspiration for Amarinder seems to have come from none other than SAD president Sukhbir Badal who was able to turn the tide in the 2012 elections in his favour by propping up as many as 22 Congress rebels who handed their party a second defeat at the hustings. To woo turncoats, the Congress chief has been throwing the bait of “no candidates in 55 seats” when he inducted the first few turncoats into the Congress fold earlier this year.

Even as the dust has to settle on the induction of former Akali minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur, Amarinder is trying to breach the enemy camp through rebellion by one of Akali Dal’s four Lok Sabha MPs, Sher Singh Ghubaya, whose son is likely to be not just inducted but also fielded from the Fazilka seat.

There is no denying the fact that Congress did not have a formidable candidate in Fazilka. Ghubaya is a grassroot politician from Rai Sikh community, whose votes matter in assembly segments such as Fazilka, Guruharsahai and Jalalabad, the seat of Sukhbir. Any shift in the vote of this community should alarm Sukhbir, who is locked in a prestige battle against AAP candidate Bhagwant Mann. It will also help MLA Rana Gurmit Sodhi, Amarinder loyalist and the man behind the move to woo Ghubaya, against a strong AAP candidate, Malkeet Singh Thind of the Kamboj community in Guruharsahai as the Kamboj and the Rai Sikh communities are pitted against each other in the seat and share a mutual dislike.

There are speculations of Ghubaya having been assured a few other Rai Sikh dominated assembly seats in the state, including Balluana and Ajnala. But there are rumblings within the Congress on whether gains from one seat justify a larger “self-goal” in the perception game.

“Elections are a game of perception and what signals is the Congress trying to send by bringing in rejected and dejected Akali Dal leaders? That we have 600-odd applicants but we are short of winning candidates? With so many Akali MLAs roped in, the party is becoming a mini or diluted Akali Dal. The perception about the party as a whole and not prospect of winning individual seats through turncoats will decide the fate of the Congress in the polls,” a senior Congress MLA said, requesting anonymity.

Many party leaders are miffed over not just entry of turncoats but the “power politics” that is delaying announcement of candidates once again. “We are again inflicting the same injuries. The message going down to people is that the party did multiple surveys, launched expensive poll campaigns but has no candidates in its kitty. Can we afford to show such desperation when marathon meetings are on to decide the candidates? Amarinder seems to have learnt how to engineer defections and court rebels from Sukhbir but not learnt a lesson from his own mistakes,” another MLA added.

Intro

Defection season Congress in state of flux over induction of SAD leaders; senior leaders feel it will send wrong signals that party is short of winners, ‘becoming mini Akali Dal’

First Published: Dec 06, 2016 10:27 IST