Congress has a lot at stake in Punjab (Election Special)
When Punjab votes Wednesday, the Congress will have its fingers tightly crossed. The party has gambled by fielding its top leaders like Amarinder Singh to defeat the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine.
It is perhaps only in Punjab that the Congress has fielded a battery of top leaders for the first time, forcing the BJP and the Akali Dal to toil hard on some of the seats.
"They (BJP-Akalis) went into the election campaign claiming they will win all 13 seats. Now (BJP's prime ministerial candidate) Narendra Modi is requesting voters to give the combine maximum seats," a senior Congress legislator told IANS here.
Out of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, the Congress has fielded political heavyweights in at least five.
For Bathinda, the Congress has tied up with the People's Party of Punjab (PPP) and fielded its president Manpreet Badal as a joint candidate.
In two other seats, the Congress has fielded outgoing legislators Joginder Singh Panjgrain (Faridkot) and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot (Fatehgarh Sahib).
Leading the Congress charge is the charismatic former chief minister Amarinder Singh, who has taken on his BJP rival Arun Jaitley.
Given Jaitley's closeness to Modi, fielding Amarinder in Amritsar has been the Congress' biggest gamble.
Despite the BJP's claim of a "Modi wave", Amarinder Singh is definitely giving the ruling combine a run for its money.
"Jaitley was brought here after being given the impression that it will be a cakewalk. Now, he has realised he is losing his very first Lok Sabha election," Amarinder Singh told IANS.
In Ferozepur, the Congress has fielded Punjab's leader of the opposition Sunil Jakhar, son of former Lok Sabha speaker Balram Jakhar and an outgoing legislator.
Preneet Kaur, Amarinder Singh's wife and union minister of state for external affairs, is seeking re-election for a fourth term from Patiala. And state Congress president and outgoing MP Pratap Singh Bajwa is pitted against BJP's Vinod Khanna in Gurdaspur.
In Bathinda, the Congress has not picked up anyone from its own ranks. It has fielded former finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal to take on Akali Dal MP Harsimrat Badal, wife of Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal.
Manpreet is the estranged nephew of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. Harsimrat is the daughter-in-law of the chief minister.
In Anandpur Sahib, the Congress has fielded another heavyweight, former union minister Ambika Soni. She is contesting her first popular election.
"The Congress fielded top leaders to give a tough fight to the Akali Dal-BJP combine. We will win a number of seats," Punjab Congress president Pratap Singh Bajwa said.
The Congress has also fielded two outgoing legislators in Faridkot and Fatehgarh Sahib.
Anandpur Sahib MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, grandson of former chief minister Beant Singh, has been fielded in Ludhiana.
The Congress did not field two union ministers, Manish Tewari (Ludhiana) and Santosh Chaudhary (Hoshiarpur). Tewari opted out of the contest due to health reasons.
(Posted on 28-04-2014)