Cold war among Congress leaders in Punjab turns Lok Sabha constituencies into hot seats; nine candidates named, four to go

Cold war among Congress leaders in Punjab turns Lok Sabha constituencies into hot seats; nine candidates named, four to go

Cold war among Congress leaders in Punjab turns Lok Sabha constituencies into hot seats; nine candidates named, four to go

Prabhjot Singh

Ludhiana: The Congress in Punjab while navigating a political landmine has come up with its first list of seven candidates, including the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat. The party has received over 160 applications for 13 Lok Sabha seats in the state for the upcoming General elections. In a scenario where any wrong move by the Grand Old Party in handling the tussle for securing the party ticket might hurt its chances of defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiromani Akali Dal (BJP-SAD) alliance in the state, the Congress has gone with renominating four sitting Members of Parliament from their constituencies, apart from fielding Preneet Kaur, wife of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and a three-time former MP herself, from Patiala. 

Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sunil Jakhar was facing competition from Party general secretary Amardeep Singh Cheema, who had also sought the Gurdaspur ticket. Jakhar has been given a chance to defend his seat. The PPCC and the selection committee have gone with old trusted leaders while announcing candidates for the first seven seats, which had several promising aspirants.   


Currently out of the 13 seats in Punjab, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have sitting Members of Parliament on four seats each, while the BJP-SAD alliance has five seats. Voting in Punjab for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections will be held in the seventh phase on May 19.

Other constituencies are also witnessing a similar cold war.

Anandpur Sahib is one of the most sought-after seats in the state. Back in 2014, Prem Singh Chandumajra of SAD had wrestled the constituency from Congress’ Ambika Soni with a margin of 2.17 percent votes. Though Congress' Rajya Sabha member Ambika Soni has not shown any interest in contesting from the constituency, Vikram Singh Bajwa, son-in-law of former CM of Punjab Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, as well as Yadavindra Singh Kang, son of former minister Jagmohan Kang, congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill, and Karanvir Dhillon, son of Kewal Dhillon, who formerly was Punjab's richest MLA, have applied for the ticket.

According to party insiders, Congress leader Captain Sandeep Sandhu and former Ludhiana MP, Manish Tewari, have high chances of getting a ticket from Anandpur Sahib. However, a large vote bank of Saini community in this constituency lowers the chances of a ‘parachute candidate’ finding support. Congress spokesperson Dr Achaar Sharma says the constituency has more than one lakh voters among the Saini community alone. 

In Hoshiarpur constituency, a hopeful Congress has chosen Chabbewal MLA, Rajkumar Chabbewal, expecting to benefit from the anti-incumbency that sitting MP Vijay Sampla of BJP is reportedly facing. The contest within the party for the Hoshiarpur ticket could pose a challenge to Congress, as former MP Mohinder Singh Kaypee, who lost to Sampla in 2014 with a margin of about 13,500 votes, had sought the ticket once again. Apart from Kaypee, Yamini Gomar, former AAP leader who joined Congress in 2016 had applied for a ticket from the reserved seat (SC) of Hoshiarpur.

Since 1984, Jalandhar has been under Congress' clutches, and the impressive feat in the last Lok Sabha elections shows that the constituency remains a stronghold of the party. The party has, however, ignored the challenge posed by Jalandhar west MLA Sushil Rinku and other local leaders to the candidature of sitting Jalandhar MP, Santokh Singh Chaudhary, by renominating him.

Congress is yet to find a strong candidate from Bathinda. Current MP SAD leader and Union minister in the Narendra Modi government, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, has already declared her candidature from Bathinda. Manpreet Singh Badal of Congress, who fought against Harsimrat and is now a cabinet minister in Punjab government, has shown no interest in contesting Lok Sabha elections yet.

Sangrur, where Bhagwant Mann of AAP in 2014 won with a huge margin of over 20 percent is a tough seat for Congress. Congress candidate Vijay Inder Singla was third in 2014 elections with 181410 votes, 351827 votes less than winning MP Bhagwant Mann. Despite the stakes, former CM of Punjab Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and former MLA Kewal Dhillon have shown their willingness to fight against Mann. 

Patiala is a stronghold of Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and his family. Singh’s wife, Preneet Kaur, a three-time MP, was nominated over another prominent leader wanting the Patiala ticket, four-time Congress MLA Randeep Nabha, who has a significant following in the historic city of Nabha in Patiala district.

Surjeet Singh Kohli, an industrialist and half brother of former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Navjot Kaur Sidhu, wife of Punjab cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, have shown interest in contesting from Amritsar. Ludhiana has also not been spared from the ticket race. Rivalry between Ravneet Singh Bittu and Manish Tewari is an open secret. Other than sitting MP Rockey Bharghav, Gurmail Singh, Rakesh Pandey and Pawan Dewan have applied for ticket.

Claiming his right to contest from Ludhiana, Bittu said, “I have worked hard in the constituency. From pressing for the demand of making Halwara airport an international airport to making schools of Ludhiana smart, I have left no stone unturned to make the constituency better. Party will take decision of ticket and we will support the person to whom party will give ticket”.

"Ludhiana is an urban constituency. Majority of the Ludhiana voters are Hindu. Party should give new face a chance from the constituency. I will work for local industry of Ludhiana which is facing a downfall now," said congress leader Pawan Dewan, who has himself applied for the ticket.

Leader of Lok Insaf Party and MLA Balwinder Singh Bains, said, "For Congress politics is business. Everybody wants a  ticket to become an MP so that they can do business of politics. But for us politics is serving the people. Their fight for tickets will eventually help us as people are watching who is working for them. People of Punjab have resentment against Captain Amarinder Singh-led state government."

While Manish Tewari wanted to contest from UT, Chandigarh, the ticket went to Congress leader Pawan Kumar Bansal.

The internal crisis in Punjab Congress hasn’t gone unnoticed by its rivals.  

Taking a dig at the infighting in Congress, SAD spokesman and leader Maheshinder Singh Grewal said, “The internal brawl and fight for ticket shows Congress' weakness. Leaders of Congress have differences with each other”.

Congress has defended itself, saying that the party is “democratic”. “It is a good sign we have many candidates for each seat unlike SAD who is struggling to find candidates,” party spokesperson Dr Achar Sharma said.

Punjab - a Mission 13

The Lok Sabha elections of 2014 saw Congress losing out on six seats with a very small margin of vote share. The Grand Old Party lost Anandpur Sahib to SAD with 2.17 percent of vote share, Bathinda to SAD with 1.64 percent, Ferozpur to SAD with 2.84 percent, Hoshiarpur to BJP with 1.41 percent, Patiala to AAP with 1.86 percent and Fatehgarh Sahib to AAP with a margin of less than 3 percent.

Dr Jagroop Kaur, HOD-political science at Punjabi University, Patiala, believes different people imply different perspectives while voting. "For people of Punjab, unemployment and brain drain are two big issues, which will impact their decision. Candidates matter a lot as some people vote for candidates and some vote for party ideology.”

“It seems like political crisis is going on in Punjab," Kaur added, without referring to any party.


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