A cursory look at the 11 names that the Congress party has announced for Lok Sabha elections in Punjab shows the clout that Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh seems to enjoy with the party high command. Click here for more election news
Though reports emanating from meetings that Rahul Gandhi held with the Punjab Congress leaders suggested that the AICC president was taking “serious feedback” from state party chief Sunil Kumar on the probables, but at the end of the day it is Amarinder who has had the last laugh. Gandhi had to go alongwith CM’s suggestions and not even a single name suggested by Jakhar has been given the party ticket so far.
Out of 11 candidates announced so far, besides four sitting MPs, the rest seven are Amarinder’s choice. They include his former union minister wife Preneet Kaur, who has been fielded from the erstwhile royal family’s home district Patiala; Jasbir Singh Dimpa from Khadoor Sahib; Mohd Sadiq from Faridkot; former legislator Kewal Singh Dhillon from Sangrur; former Union minister Manish Tewari from Anandpur Sahib; sitting MLA from Chabbewal reserve constituency Dr Raj Kumar Chabbewal from Hoshiarpur; and retired IAS officer Dr Amar Singh from Fatehgarh Sahib.
The four renominated MPs include Jakhar from Gurdaspur, GS Aujla from Amritsar, Ravneet Bittu from Ludhiana, and Chaudhary Santokh Singh from Jalandhar.
On Thursday, the party announced Tewari’s candidature from Anandpur Sahib and Dhillon’s from Sangrur despite a fierce opposition by Jakhar. Dhillon is a businessman and considered a close aide to Amarinder while Tewari, though not on the right side of Gandhi,walked away with the ticket as the CM backed him strongly. Jakhar had opposed Tewari’s candidature on the plea that he had run away from a contest in the 2014 Lok Sabha election when party needed him the most.
At one point Gandhi had refused to accept the Amarinder’s nominees for these two constituencies and asked the screening committee in the state to go back to the drawing board and come prepare a revised list. The way Ganhi rejected the names of the candidates in two consecutive meetings, it appeared Tewari will have to sit out this election. Amarinder, however, did not give up. He held several meetings with Tewari, who later secured support from Gandhi’s mother and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and senior party leader Ahmed Patel.
Later, Amarinder went with the same names to Gandhi. Party general secretary in-charge for Punjab Asha Kumari supported Amarinder leaving Jakhar outnumbered both in the state screening committee meeting and the central election committee meeting.
Sources said Amarinder backed both Tewari and Dhillon in the Thursday meeting and at one point even said that victory in both these constituencies would be his personal responsibility.
With only CM’s nominees being granted the party tickets, heartburn was bound to follow with several leaders even going public with their grievance.
Amarinder, however, brushed aside the resentment among party leaders over denial of tickets, saying with only 13 Lok Sabha seats in the state, it was impossible to accommodate all 177 aspirants.
He said the decision to allot tickets was taken by the Congress high command based on candidates’ winnability. “Tickets were allotted to balance youth with experience,” Singh told mediapersons after welcoming former Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Chandan Garewal into the Congress Saturday.
Asked about reports of some disgruntled leaders preparing to form a separate Congress Taksali, the CM said he hoped better sense would prevail among these leaders and they would work for the success of the Congress.
On senior Congress leader and sitting Jalandhar MP Mohinder Singh Kay Pee being denied ticket, Amarinder pointed out that he had unsuccessfully contested on party tickets thrice in the past and even his wife had been given a chance, but she too had lost.
The idea of Congress Taksali was floated by Kay Pee at a meeting of party leaders and workers in Chandigarh on Sunday. Besides him, Shamsher Singh Dullo and Santosh Choudhary are two other Congress veterans who have been sulking over denial of ticket for the May 19 elections.
The Thursday’s meeting was not the only time when Amarinder had had his way. He prevailed in the previous meetings too when the party announced three candidates – all the CM’s nominees. Jakhar was not in favour of Dimpa from Khadoor Sahib as he does not enjoy a panthic image. The state party chief was pushing for Inderjit Singh Zira in Faridkot, a Majhbi Sikh instead of Sadiq in Faridkot, and a Hindu candidate in Sangrur.
With Amarinder getting tickets for all his nominees, a section in the party now believes that he may be able to get another aide and Cabinet minister Rana Gurmit Sodhi nominated from Ferozepur. Jakhar and Rana Sodhi are considered political rivals.
With Amarinder’s stamp on all these candidates, the buzz in the Congress that his stock was going down with the high command, too is dying now. “He has shown everyone that he is the leader. He has bulldozed his way through. Those, who were getting support from others too have had a taste of reality,” said a senior party leader requesting anonymity.