Punjab Assembly elections: It’s all about winnability and not just pure loyalty for Congress and AAP in the state

While the Congress has given tickets to those who have been publicly abrasive for state chief Navjot Singh Sidhu or to those who seem loyal to former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, the Arvind Kejriwal-led party has decided to give tickets to 50 leaders who just joined the party

Aman Sharma January 17, 2022 09:38:33 IST
Punjab Assembly elections:  It’s all about winnability and not just pure loyalty for Congress and AAP in the state

Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu with Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi. AFP

Let’s keep everyone happy. This seemed to be the underlying message of the first Congress list of 86 candidates declared for Punjab on Saturday. Being publicly abrasive for state chief Navjot Singh Sidhu or seen loyal to former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh or facing a corruption charge — nothing seemed to have mattered.

It is not as if things are rosier in the camp of the other leading contender in Punjab — the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Here, over 50 seats have been given to leaders who joined the AAP from other parties, sparking a mini-rebellion of sorts in the ranks, but AAP seems focussed on winnability rather than just pure loyalty.

The party also fears the two farmer political outfits eating into its votes. AAP’s chief ministerial face could finally surface this week after a referendum. In the Congress camp though, no CM face is expected to be declared.

Congress battle

Increasingly, Punjab seems a direct contest between the ruling Congress and the main challenger, AAP. The Congress list of candidates leaves little to imagination that the party’s high command has decided to ebb the bitter fight in its ranks by giving tickets to all factions.

No chief ministerial face may be declared, though there are claimants officially through public statements now in sitting Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and party’s state chief Navjot Singh Sidhu — both have projected their own ‘Punjab Model’ for the next five years.

Sample the Congress candidate list.

Channi, Sidhu and former state party chief Partap Singh Bajwa are all candidates from their traditional seats.

But it is not so that those averse to Sidhu haven’t got tickets. Minister Rana Gurjeet Singh, who publicly took on Sidhu and called him a “political mercenary” and “unstable and eccentric”, has got a ticket. So have at least five loyalists of former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh like Sadhu Singh Dharamsot who was removed as minister after Channi took over and also faces allegations in a scholarship scam.

Sukhpal Khaira, who Captain brought from the AAP to the Congress, is in Patiala jail in a money laundering case but he has got a ticket too.

It is this approach of placating all and ensuring that there is no exodus to the Captain camp that is expected to stop the Congress from also going into the election with a declared chief minister face.

Sidhu took a cue to say he was not fighting for any post. The party is already on the back-foot as it could not act against the Badals in the sacrilege cases over five years and its move to book Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia in the drugs case also did not yield much results as the latter got anticipatory bail.

Sidhu, the champion of both causes, has not missed out the chance of putting Chief Minister Channi in the dock, saying the Guru (god) did not get justice and the drug traffickers were not punished in five years.

‘Confident’ AAP smells conspiracies

After alliance talks with Balbir Singh Rajewal’s political outfit of farmer groups did not fructify, the AAP now feels the two farmer parties could eat into its votes and is going to declare a chief ministerial face this week after a referendum to change the narrative.

AAP co-in-charge of Punjab, Raghav Chadha, told News18.com in an interview that AAP may be the only party to do so in these elections. If the candidate is Bhagwant Mann as anticipated, the party could see a groundswell in the important Malwa region which sends a bulk of MLAs to the Assembly, with Mann being a two-time MP from Sangrur.

But trouble seems to be brewing in the AAP, too, as Chadha faced at a recent event in Punjab with cadre resorting to violence over tickets. Local AAP leaders say nearly half of the tickets in Punjab (the count is put at 56) have been given to leaders who came from other parties, including some who joined just a few days ago, rather than to party loyalists. The AAP is quelling such rebellion saying it is going by the sheer winnability of candidates as all polls show it ahead.

Players searching for narrative

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the BJP-Captain-Dhindsa alliance is, meanwhile, desperately searching for a new narrative in the state to appeal to the voters. The BJP has tried to do so by getting rebels from other parties on board to show Sikh faces still trust in the BJP as well as milking the security lapse issue during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Punjab.

Captain Amarinder Singh’s party could contest around 30 seats in an alliance with the BJP, but may not fare that well as many loyalists of the Captain are not likely to jump ship since many have got tickets from the Congress.

The SAD has used the bail given to Majithia as a stick to beat the Congress with, alleging political vendetta. The party’s old war-horse, 94-year-old Parkash Singh Badal is back to campaigning, but all that may be too little, too late for the party.

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