The Congress in Punjab has reached a level where it stands as the frontrunner for next year's Assembly elections. But now, the party is bracing for its biggest challenge - allotting tickets - which will make or break its chances.
State leaders are hoping that the party high command will not meddle too much in the process, and let those on the ground decide whom to field. This was the primary mistake the Congress had made in 2012, which led to its defeat in the Assembly polls.
Last week, the Congress's central leadershup constituted a screening committee led by former Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot. The other members of the committee include the party's Punjab in-charge, Asha Kumari, state Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh, Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader Charanjit Singh Channi, former Youth Congress chief Rajiv Satav and former MP Meenakshi Natarajan.
Announcing the constitution of the committee, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala had said that party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi had approved the move. He had clarified that this committee would merely scrutinise candidates - and that the final decision would be made by the central election committee of the party, after consultation with the state leadership.
Amarinder's grand plans
With Amarinder and Channi being the only leaders from Punjab in the committee, the high command appears to have given a free run to Amarinder in choosing the candidates. "There's no (former state Congress chief) Partap Singh Bajwa on the committee, no (former Chief Minister) Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, and no (former CLP leader) Sunil Jakhar. The party seems to have given complete freedom to Amarinder to choose the candidates. Channi is unlikely to have any say in choosing the candidates, as he is a lightweight compared to all others in the committee," a political observer noted.
But despite getting all the freedom, it remains to be seen whether Amarinder is able to practice all that he has been preaching till now.
To begin with, he has been propagating that the party will be giving only one ticket per family. He has promised to make the start from his own family, which means that only he or his wife Preneet Kaur or his son Raninder Singh would be contesting the polls.
This announcement had caused a lot of heartburn among the Congress heavyweights across the state, as they were eying tickets not only for themselves, but also for their kin. But somehow, over the last few months, Amarinder has been able to drive home the message that he is serious about one ticket per family.
Whether the Congress is able to take this concept to its logical conclusion remains to be seen.
If it fails, it would be a dampener for Congress workers down the line, who have always complained of the monopoly of a few families dominating the party in the state. If it succeeds, Amarinder would not only be setting a precedent, but this would go a long way in strengthening the party at the grassroot level.
Another of Amarinder's pet plans is to reward those who work for party candidates' success without demanding tickets. He has said in case the Congress comes to power, such persons would be rewarded with chairpersonships of boards and corporations. However, those getting tickets will not be considered for these posts, whether they win or lose.
This step is expected to take care of infighting at the local levels to a large extent. In addition to this, aspirants have been asked to furnish affidavits saying they would not stand as rebels even if they fail to get the party tickets in the final rounds.
The party has also asked ticket aspirants to attach details of two voters, including their serial numbers on the voter ID cards, Aadhar cards and mobile numbers, from each booth in the constituency from which they wish to contest. This is to ensure the seriousness of those seeking tickets.
The Congress's announcement that it would give 30% of the tickets to the youth has also led to an infusion of fresh blood in its cadres. What remains to be seen is whether it can stick to this promise. Youngsters have been actively participating in the outreach programmes of the party, and have been at the forefront of various campaigns. The ongoing farmer outreach campaign, with its promise of a debt waiver, has reaped good dividends for the party.
Insiders still wary
However, despite all these positive signs, insiders say the party will face problems in containing dissidence once the final list of candidates starts coming out.
"We want to know where and how the leadership will accommodate the leaders that the party has been able to poach from its rival camps. If they are given tickets, how does the party pacify its own leaders and voters? The Congress culture will not change over night. There will be leaders baying for blood if they are denied tickets, or if the high command decides to impose candidates on certain seats," said an insider.
The fact that a large number of leaders are keen to get party tickets is a positive sign, as a few months back, everyone had written off the Congress. But insiders insist that the party high command should not interfere too much in the ticket distribution.
They also feel that the party should declare its candidates early, so that they get the time to work in the constituencies. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has a head start on this front, having already declared candidates for 61 seats, and it is expected to declare its remaining candidates in the next few days.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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