The Congress continues to tread the poll path in Punjab with extreme caution. This is evident from the second list of candidates the party has released, after clearance by the party high command in New Delhi.
The party claims to be taking the winnability criteria of the candidates very seriously, besides sticking to the norm of one candidate per family.
With the second list of 16, the party has now declared candidates for 77 of the 117 seats in Punjab.
Who's fighting from where
The fresh list features four new faces, including two youngsters - Birenderjit Singh Pahra from Gurdaspur, and Daman Thind Bajwa from Sunam.
The Congress leadership has retained six of its sitting MLAs in the list, with two of them being shifted to new constituencies.
The list also includes three newcomers to the Congress - Darshan Lal Mangepur and Harwinder Singh Laddi from Manpreet Badal's erstwhile People's Party of Punjab, which has now merged into the Congress, and Nirmal Singh Nimma, a two-time MLA who belonged to the BSP.
The party has also dropped two sitting MLAs - Joginder Singh Panjgrain and Tarlochan Singh - citing the winnability criteria as the reason.
Sources say senior Congress leaders have managed to persuade Tarlochan not to protest his dropping, while efforts are on to convince Joginder too.
The party has replaced its sitting MLAs from Jaitu and Banga - both these reserved constituencies.
In Jaitu, the party has decided to field Mohammed Sadique, who had been elected from Badhaur reserved constituency in 2012. In Banga, the party's candidate will be Satnam Singh, who had contested the last polls from Adampur reserved constituency.
The four sitting MLAs who have retained their seats in the second list are Amarinder Singh Raja Warring from Gidderbaha, Amrik Singh Dhillon from Samrala, Jagmohan Singh Kang from Kharar and Karan Kaur Brar from Muktsar.
Karan Kaur and Daman Thind Bajwa are the two women candidates to feature in this list, taking the total number of women candidates declared by the party so far to eight.
The party has moved its Bucho Mandi MLA Ajaib Singh Bhatti to Malout. Both these seats are reserved.
The other inclusions in the second list are Gurwinder Singh Atwal from Bholath, which is the constituency of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) heavyweight Bibi Jagir Kaur, and Chaudhary Surender Singh from Kartarpur, which was held by veteran Akali leader Sarwan Singh Phillaur, who recently left the SAD to join the Congress.
The Congress has dropped all those candidates who had lost the 2012 polls except for Surjit Singh Dhiman, who has been fielded again from Amargarh after losing by 4,406 votes last time.
Amarinder makes a difference
Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh has stated that the criteria for selecting the candidates was solely winnability.
During the course of the campaign, Amarinder has managed to send home the message to the Congress high command that the party's resurgence at the national level can begin from Punjab, where it holds a considerable chance to win the polls.
Congress leaders at the state level are of the view that minimum interference from the high command in choosing the candidates is the need of the hour, and the party must continue to stick to the norm of one ticket per family and the winnability criteria, while handing out the olive branch to adjust those do not get tickets as chairmen of boards and corporations once the party forms the government.
From being nowhere in the reckoning, Amarinder, through his very aggressive campaign, has managed to bring the party at par with its rival Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was being seen as a clear frontrunner to emerge victorious in the forthcoming polls till four months ago.
As a politician, Amarinder's stature has risen to a new height, since he has also been taking on the top brass of the BJP government at the Centre. He has been firing regular salvos at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and also Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, whom he had drubbed in the last Lok Sabha polls in Amritsar. His past experience as an ex-serviceman has helped him in being particularly scathing on Parrikar.
However, this does not mean that he has not faced problems from within the party. His rivals, particularly his predecessor, Partap Bajwa, along with other leaders like Shamsher Singh Dullo, have been questioning his style of functioning. But till now, they have not found favour with the party high command. Amarinder has already announced that these will be his last polls.
Old habits die hard
Despite Amarinder's innovations, for some Congress heavyweights, it's a case of old habits die hard. They're camping in Delhi to lobby for tickets, either for themselves or their supporters. On the ground, second rung leaders and workers are camping.
"This time, the change that is visible is that while the leaders have been away, the workers and supporters from various factions of the party have been working on the ground in unison, as per the road map prepared by the party's poll strategist Prashant Kishor. This never happened before," said a Congress worker in Patiala.
He, however, added that the leaders too will have to remain united and accelerate the campaign if the party wants to win, because a large section of the masses are still skeptical of voting for the Congress and have been supporting AAP.
The manner in which Congress leaders have been camping in Delhi for ticket distribution has provided AAP with a chance to hit out at the Congress.
AAP's state convenor, Gurpreet Singh Waraich, has said that while his party had released the lists of its candidates at Chandigarh without any outer influence, the Congress continues to be driven from Delhi.
"There is no democracy in the Congress. Amarinder and Congress ticket seekers are at the mercy of Gandhi family. It is only AAP which, in practice, implements internal party democracy," he said.
He said that not only Amarinder, but the entire Congress circus had shifted from Punjab to Delhi. Waraich predicted that the tussle for tickets in the Congress party would intensify in the days to come.
He also charged that Amarinder's sole motive was to divide the anti-incumbency votes and stab the people of state in the back.
Stung Badal also hits out
Stung by Ferozepur MP Sher Singh Ghubaya's son Davinder joining the Congress along with his uncle Munsha Ghubaya two days back, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has also attacked the Congress on its ticket contribution.
Badal said that the Congress is a 'divided house', which is no match for SAD.
Speaking to media persons on the sidelines of a Sangat Darshan program in Kartarpur, he said the Congress is basically an indisciplined party divided into various factions, due to which there's a squabble for ticket allocation amongst all the leaders.
Badal said the pulls and pressures within the Congress have been evident from the delay in ticket allocation.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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