Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, state affairs in-charge Asha Kumari and Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Sunil Kumar Jakhar on Sunday met former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at his residence in New Delhi and urged him to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Amritsar.
Sources told The Indian Express that Dr Singh was “not very enthused” by the idea and is learnt to have told the delegation that he was too old to contest. The three leaders went to him after the screening committee meeting organised to shortlist poll candidates from the state.
Amarinder, sources said, told Dr Singh that he would just need to come to Amritsar to fill nomination papers and that he (the CM), would personally look after his campaign by staying put in Amritsar. Congress has a sitting MP from the holy city.
The leaders are learnt to have conveyed to Dr Singh that a number of MLAs had made an appeal to the party for his candidature from Punjab as it would galvanise the Congress’ campaign in the state.
The leaders then allegedly told the former PM that since Punjab would go for elections in the last phase, he had a lot of time to think it through.
Dr Singh, who is a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, finishes his term in June this year. Sources said the party does not want him to retire. Former PPCC president Partap Singh Bajwa has already offered to vacate his RS seat for him. But the Congress state unit reckons that if Bajwa leaves his seat, they would have to field him from a constituency in Punjab. Bajwa is a former MP from Gurdaspur, a seat presently represented by Jakhar. Sources said the chief minister is not keen on Bajwa getting the Gurdaspur seat again.
The screening committee meeting held earlier in the day was also attended by AICC General Secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal.
Several seats including Patiala and Gurdaspur had only one probable each in the chief minister’s wife Preneet Kaur from Patiala, and Jakhar from Gurdaspur.
Cong likely to delay naming of candidates
With elections in Punjab scheduled for May 19, Congress is likely to delay naming of candidates, sources said. The lists are now likely to be released in April, said a senior party leader.
The leader added that they did not want their candidates and the campaign to lose steam as 70 days is a long time for a candidate to sustain a high-pitched campaign.
The party may now wait for the Akalis to announce their candidates first, especially in Bathinda and Firozpur, from where the Badals are expected to contest. “There is a lot of time. We can wait for them to announce their candidates,” said another party leader.
Earlier, it was expected that the Congress would finalise the names of candidates from a few constituencies Sunday.
Amarinder took to Facebook to claim that they will win all 13 seats and ensured a peaceful poll.
A PTI report said that after the committee meeting, the chief minister said that the names will be sent to AICC Central Election Committee for a final decision, as per the methodology proposed by Congress president Rahul Gandhi to ensure transparency in the functioning of the party, making it apparent that the party will not ally with anyone in the state.
The chief minister said the Punjab government would take all steps to ensure free and fair polls, in a secure environment. The police and civil administration would work in tandem to enable peaceful election in the state, he added.
In response to a question, he said the Army is an apolitical institution, which no political party should try to politicise. Any attempt to do so will have a demoralising effect on the armed forces, he added, according to the PTI report.
Before formal discussions, the screening committee also individually met and sought views of senior party leaders from the the state including state Health Minister Brahm Mahindra, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and MPs Santosh Chaudhry, Santokh Singh and Partap Bajwa.