Congress heavy artillery changes Punjab equations (Election Special)
When ruling Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal recently assured BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi that the Akali Dal-BJP alliance will win all 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, he did not perhaps have the game-plan of the principal opposition Congress in mind.
The Congress has ended up raising the bar for the April 30 Lok Sabha polls by fielding its biggest political names to take on the Akali Dal-BJP combine. Even though the top Congress leaders were reluctant to contest initially, the move, hardly anticipated by the combine, has ensured that there would be a real political battle at hand in the Punjab elections.
Topping the list of Congress bigwigs in the fray this time is former chief minister Amarinder Singh who has been fielded to take on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) heavy-weight and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat .
A top-notch lawyer, BJP strategist and Modi's close aide, Jaitley was brought in to ease out sitting BJP MP from Amritsar, cricketer-turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was at loggerheads with top leaders of the Akali Dal and the BJP in Punjab.
Jaitley was given the impression that Amritsar would be a 'safe' seat for him to contest - given the fact that this is his first foray into a popular election.
But things have changed dramatically after Amarinder's arrival on the scene.
A charismatic leader, Amarinder came out all guns blazing against the Akalis, the BJP and Jaitley with his verbal barbs.
The bitter contest in Amritsar will be the most keenly watched one after the Varanasi face-off between Narendra Modi and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) challenger Arvind Kejriwal.
"The Congress party has shown how seriously it is taking this election in Punjab. The Akalis and BJP are having sleepless nights," Amarinder Singh told IANS.
From the Gurdaspur seat, the Congress has fielded sitting MP and state Congress president Pratap Singh Bajwa to take on actor Vinod Khanna of the BJP. Bajwa too was not willing to contest this time.
And the Congress has fielded leader of opposition in Punjab assembly Sunil Jakhar in the Ferozepur Lok Sabha constituency.
The Congress replaced its sitting MP Ravneet Singh Bittu to field another senior leader, former union minister Ambika Soni for the Anandpur Sahib seat. Bittu has been shifted to the Ludhiana Lok Sabha constituency, replacing union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari, who has opted out of the contest owing to "health reasons".
Another sitting MP, Santosh Chaudhary, who is union minister of state for health, has been dumped by the Congress from the Hoshiarpur seat and former state Congress president and Jalandhar MP Mohinder Singh Kaypee has been fielded from there instead.
For the Faridkot and Fatehgarh Sahib seats, the Congress has fielded sitting legislators Joginder Singh Panjgrain and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot respectively.
Even if they are worried over the senior Congress leaders being fielded and giving a tough fight, the Akali Dal is trying to play down the same.
"The decision of the Congress party to push all the tired and bickering seniors into a losing battle against their wishes was a part of the larger Rahul Gandhi plan to finish off the old guard in the Congress and replace them after the Lok Sabha poll with new faces personally loyal to him," Akali Dal president and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said.
The results alone will show how well both sides played their cards.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 01-04-2014)