Congress on Monday bet on all first-timers for four Assembly bypolls on October 21 by announcing party tickets for Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s political secretary, Sandeep Singh Sandhu, an industrialist Raminder Singh Awla, an IAS officer Balwinder Singh Dhaliwal and wife of former MLA (late Rajnish Babbi), Indu Bala.
Sandhu has been fielded from Dakha, a segment vacated by AAP leader H S Phoolka, who resigned in protest against government’s alleged inaction in Bargari sacrilege case. Dhaliwal has been given party ticket from Phagwara, Awla from Jalalabad and Indu Bala from Mukerian.
A lieutenant of the Chief Minister, Sandhu remained loyal to him even when he was pushed to the fringes after party named Partap Singh Bajwa as PPCC chief in 2013. He was rewarded when Congress formed the government in Punjab and appointed as CM’s politcal secretary.
A general secretary of PPCC, Sandhu is also incharge of the PPCC office. He had been nurturing political ambition and was a claimant for a Lok Sabha ticket from Anandpur Sahib. But Chief Minister had backed Manish Tewari’s candidature, who is now a sitting MP. Though the government was not accepting Phoolka’s resignation for last eight months, he moved the Supreme Court and it worked in Sandhu’s favour. Sandhu is not a political greenhorn as he had been handling the back-end operations of Congress election office in 2012
Assembly election, Amarinder’s election office in 2014 Lok Sabha election and several other bypolls. An IAS officer Balwinder Singh Dhaliwal, who was working as Director, Land Records in Jalandhar, resigned an hour before the Congress made the announcement of candidates officially. Dhaliwal was preparing for the bypoll for a few months now and concentrating on Phagwara, the seat he will contest now.
Considered close to CM’s Chief Principal Secretary Suresh Kumar, Dhaliwal is believed to have Amarinder’s backing. Dhaliwal would have a direct contest in Phagwara, a BJP segment, vacated after election of BJP’s Som Parkash to Lok Sabha from Hoshiarpur Lok Sabha constituency.
Awla, a businessman having mills in UP and power projects in Punjab would be taking on former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal’s choice in Jalalabad. Sukhbir vacated the constiuency after his election to Lok Sabha from Faridkot. Awla is considered close to PPCC chief Sunil Kumar Jakhar. Jakhar was pushing for a ticket for Awla during Lok
Sabha elections from Ferozepur and opposing Sports Minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi’s candidature then. But Amarinder still managed a ticket for Rana Sodhi, who lost to Sukhbir Badal. This time Jakhar managed ticket for Awla. The party believes that a moneybag candidate can give competition to SAD candidate in Sukhbir Badal’s turf, said sources.
The party has chosen Indu Bala from Mukerian, after the demise of her MLA husband Rajnish Babbi. Indu Bala is a homemaker, but used to nurture her husband’s constituency. She would be taking on a BJP candidate. The party has chosen her while banking on the sympathy vote for her as her husband who passed away recently. Babbi, who was a son of Dr Kewal Krishan, former Speaker of Punjab Vidhan Sabha. The party had refused ticket to Babbi after passing away of Dr Krishan in 2012 Assembly election. Babbi had contested as an Independent and won.
Later, he had become an associate member of Congress in Vidhan Sabha. He was given party ticket in 2017 Assembly election. He passed away after a prolonged illness.