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Punjab civic polls: It’s Congress vs Congress on assembly seats contested by ‘turncoats’

While traditional rivals Akalis and Congress slug it out, heartburn within ruling party in segments where old-timers lost tickets to those who came from SAD, PPP.

punjab Updated: Dec 15, 2017 09:08 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab civic polls,Congress,Turncoats
(Representative Image)

Amid the din of municipal elections in Punjab, the Congress office at Chandigarh is seeing the usual flow of complaints from party workers. Either to bail them out of political vendetta cases slapped by Akalis or slap one on rivals.

Having been out of power for 10 years, it is not just Akalis they have to contend with, but also “turncoats” who joined the Congress ahead of the February elections.

In municipal corporations, councils and nagar panchayats falling in assembly segments contested by those who joined Congress from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), BJP and erstwhile People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) founded by Manpreet Badal, which merged into the Congress ahead of state polls, the contest is also Congress versus Congress.

Since MLAs have been given a free run to win polls, most candidates are their loyalists. Though the state leadership of the party had declared that old-timers will be given preference after a meeting in Delhi, it was just to calm some ruffled feathers.

For instance, in the 85-member Amritsar municipal corporation, 13 wards out of 16 in Amritsar South are being contested by nominees owing allegiance to MLA Inderbir Singh Bolaria who switched sides from the SAD to Congress. Bolaria had trumped Harjinder Thekedar of the Congress to bag the party ticket in the 2017 polls after much delay.

Likewise, in Amritsar East constituency, the candidates of local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu have bagged nominations, leaving no say for Jasbir Dimpa, whose claim to assembly ticket too was overlooked to make way for Sidhu who quit the BJP in 2016.

The heartburn among party old-timers is keeping away from the campaign. But Congress district president of Amritsar Urban, Jugal Kishore Sharma, says the party has tried to strike a balance between new and old Congressmen.

“It is the local MLA who has taken charge of wards in his seat. So their nominees have been accommodated. However, we have been able to meet the expectations of old Congressmen too. Unlike the SAD and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), whose state leaders are campaigning for MC polls, our state leadership has left it to the MLAs. People always vote for the ruling party in MC polls as only then their works can get done. We have no competition from outside or within,” he says.

In Jalandhar MC, MLA Pargat Singh, former Olympian who left the SAD to embrace the Congress, has been able to have his pick. Among the nagar councils and nagar panchayats going to the polls on December 17 where “turncoats” are holding the sway is Bhikhi block of Mansa.

Here, out of 13 nominees of Congress, most are loyalists of former minister Mangat Rai Bansal whose wife, Manju Bansal, lost the seat as a Congress nominee to the AAP. Bansal had jumped the Congress ship to join SAD and later returned to Congress, all despite conviction in a corruption case.

In Moga district’s Baghapurana seat, the bad blood is between old Congress factions. But MLA Darshan Singh Brar, who was replaced as district Congress chief after party’s former women wing president, Malti Thapar, accused him of “misbehaving”, has not only been able to prevail upon other factions but also ensure that all his 13 nominees were elected unopposed after reported clashes with Akalis.

In Bathinda, factions of finance minister Manpreet Badal and former Congress MLA Harminder Jassi this week held separate show of strengths when Rahul Gandhi became Congress president-elect. The party will need to worry about the fissures when Bathinda MC goes to polls.

Back in the Congress office here, several complaints of political vendetta are from among Congressmen, in seats contested by candidates from other parties such as Nihal Singh Wala, Atam Nagar, Budhlada, Bathinda urban and rural, Bhucho and Fazilka. A Congress MLA says the Akalis can cry foul over alleged highhandedness of the ruling Congress.

“But who do we complain to for being treated as secondary citizens in the Congress. Sidhu and Manpreet were made cabinet ministers while die-hard Congressmen who won several times are being kept on tenterhooks. It has demoralised not just us but our workers too,” he said, requesting anonymity.

First Published: Dec 15, 2017 09:08 IST