Long in the doghouse after his partys defeat in the 2007 Assembly elections,Captain Amarinder Singh is firmly on the path of rehabilitation with a majority of Congress tickets from Punjab for the Lok Sabha elections going to his loyalists.
Amarinder,who was denied the post of state party chief as well as that of the Leader of Opposition after the elections,has been battling a series of problems,with the Shiromani Akali Dal (B)-BJP coalition Government slapping cases on him and ensuring that he was expelled from the Assembly following the recommendations of a privileges committee.
However,with new state Congress chief Mohinder Singh Kaypee and Leader of the Opposition Rajinder Kaur Bhattal failing to pull the party out of the morass for the past two years,the high command has again turned to Amarinder. Perhaps realising the way the wind is blowing,Bhattal has kept uncharasterically quiet at the development.
With the current Congress tally at a lowly two of the 13 seats in the state,the party is only expected to improve. And Amarinder looks set to reap the benefits.
The first signs of the party reposing faith in the Captain was when he was made in-charge of the campaign for the ensuing Lok Sabha elections in the state,bypassing Kaypee as well as Bhattal. Now,the final list of party candidates from Punjab has his imprint all over. Not only have tickets been allocated to his wife Preneet Kaur,a sitting MP,and son Raninder Singh,who is a first-time entrant to politics,the high command has also gone by his recommendations on most of the seats.
On the other hand,two candidates known to be close to the rival factions headed by Bhattal and Kaypee,against whom he had expressed strong reservations,have both been denied tickets. One of them is Bhattals son Rahul Sidhu from Sangrur constituency. The ticket went to a youth leader,Vijay Inder Singla,who is considered close to Amarinder as well as Rahul Gandhi.
The other leader to find himself out in the cold is Amarinders vocal critic and former deputy speaker Bir Devinder Singh,who was eyeing a ticket from Anandpur Sahib. Not only had Bir Devinder started his campaign in the constituency,he had also publicly vowed to take on the former chief minister.
Another party leader Amarinder was keen to keep away from the elections was former state finance minister Surinder Singla,who had contested the previous bypolls against the BJPs Navjot Singh Sidhu from Amritsar and lost with a considerable margin. Singla finds himself out of the partys list.
If the denial of party ticket to senior Congress leader Ambika Soni also suits the Captain,so does the grant of one to rival Kaypee from Jalandhar (reserved) constituency. Whatever the outcome of that election,he is confident of getting the post of the Punjab PCC chief. Kaypee,incidentally,is pitted against well-known singer Hansraj Hans,who had been given the title of Raj Kavi by Amarinder when he was the chief minister.
Ambika,say sources,had been keen on contesting her first election from Anandpur Sahib and had paid frequent visits to the area in anticipation. Had the high command agreed,she could have emerged as a major rival power centre to Amarinder in Punjab.
The Captain had his say in the selection of O P Soni as the candidate from Amritsar and Rana Gurjeet Singh from Khadoor Sahib. The rival factions in the party were keen on fielding Sukh Sarkaria from Amritsar,but the Captain held his ground arguing that Soni had won thrice from one of the Assembly segments in the constituency and could provide some fight to Sidhu. He had,of course,suggested that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be the strongest Congress candidate from Amritsar,but the latter has decided not to contest.
Besides his son Raninder and Vijay Inder Singla,Amarinder also backed two other youth leaders Sukhwinder Singh Danny from Faridkot and Ravneet Singh Bittu,the Punjab Youth Congress chief,from Anandpur Sahib. With the two recommended by Rahul too,both have got tickets.