In Punjab, top Congress leaders want rivals to contest
As the Lok Sabha elections draw closer, top leaders in the feuding Congress party in Punjab are busy, quite strangely, suggesting names of their rivals within the party for various constituencies.
The biggest fight on this front is going on between Punjab Congress president Pratap Singh Bajwa and former chief minister Amarinder Singh. It is well known that the two leaders have no love lost for each other. Recent attempts at a truce between the two failed.
Bajwa, who replaced Amarinder Singh as the Punjab Congress chief in March last year after the Congress ended up with a series of political debacles in state elections, wants the former chief minister to contest for the Bathinda Lok Sabha seat against sitting Bathinda MP and ruling Shiromani Akali Dal's formidable candidate Harsimrat Kaur Badal. She had defeated Amarinder's son, Raninder Singh, in Bhatinda in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls by a big margin of over 120,000 votes.
Amarinder Singh, who is now a permanent invitee to the powerful Congress Working Committee (CWC), wants Bajwa to contest again for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat. Bajwa, who was elected to the Gurdaspur seat defeating three-time MP and Bollywood actor Vinod Khanna by just over 8,000 votes, is not very keen to contest the seat again.
While Bajwa has pointed out that if Amarinder contests against Harsimrat, it will confine the family of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to the Bathinda seat as they will have high political stakes.
"Bajwa is not worried about the Badals. He is afraid to contest himself. He is hatching conspiracies to keep me out of state politics. I will not fall into his trap. I have told the Congress high command about my decision (not to contest). I can contribute better by campaigning for the party rather than contesting and confining myself to just one seat. But I want to know why Bajwa is shying away from contesting from Gurdaspur," Amarinder Singh told IANS.
Bajwa privately tries to justify his unwillingness to contest saying that as state Congress president, he will have to tour the entire state extensively and does not want to be confined to just his own seat.
Amarinder's wife, Preneet Kaur, who is union minister of state for external affairs, is sure to contest for her Patiala Lok Sabha seat.
Punjab has 13 Lok Sabha seats. The Congress had got the better of the ruling Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance in the 2009 general elections by winning eight seats compared to five of the alliance.
Given the mood against the Congress and the recent triumphs of the Akali Dal-BJP alliance in all types of elections in the last two years, Congress leaders in Punjab are shying away from contesting in the Lok Sabha elections.
"The Congress leadership is trying to persuade senior party leaders from Punjab to put up the best fight in these elections. The names of some sitting legislators are also being suggested. However, most of them are trying to wriggle out of the situation given the present scenario," a senior Congress legislator told IANS here.
Senior leaders like former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Jagmeet Singh Brar are also keeping a low profile these days to avoid coming in sight for the Lok Sabha polls.
Three union ministers, Manish Tewari (Information and Broadcasting), Preneet Kaur (External Affairs) and Santosh Chaudhary (Health), are sitting MPs from the Ludhiana, Patiala and Hoshiarpur Lok Sabha constituencies respectively.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 12-02-2014)