Even though the Punjab Congress has finalised the screening panel for the forthcoming state assembly elections, the party faces an onerous task of picking candidates with lobbies within the state unit resulting in delays in not just allotment of tickets but also district-level appointments. The top brass of the party including state unit president Navjot Singh Sidhu, chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and the party incharge for Punjab, Harish Chaudhary, have been holding parleys for key appointments at the district level. But so far the restructuring at the grassroots has eluded the party due to differences between top leaders.
Also, the task of choosing candidates for the polls early next year is turning out to be quite a challenge for the party. In the politically important regions of Majha and Malwa, several ticket-seekers from different lobbies are slugging it out. The party has also faced embarrassment in the Qadian constituency where the Bajwa brothers—Rajya Sabha member Partap Singh Bajwa and Qadian sitting MLA Fateh Jung Bajwa—have put themselves on a collision course with both staking claim to their home seat.
Partap’s Rajya Sabha term ends in April next year and he has already announced that he would contest from Qadian, evoking a strong reaction from the brother. The seat is the home borough of the Bajwa family. In 2012, Partap’s wife Charanjit Kaur had won here by 16,000 votes. In 2017, it was Fateh who beat his nearest rival Sewa Singh Sekhwan by 12,000 votes.
In the Batala constituency, in contention are three-time former MLA Ashwani Sekhri, considered to be the most prominent Hindu face in the Congress, cabinet minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Gurdaspur district Congress committee president Roshan Joseph and five-time councillor Harinder Singh.
Though initially it was believed that Tript Bajwa and Sekhri would stake claim to the seat, later two more Congress leaders—Roshan Joseph and Harinder Singh—threw their hats into the ring. All the ticket-seekers have claimed the support of the top brass.
Interestingly, former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar will not only head the campaign committee but will also be part of the screening committee. “Jakhar has been on a collision course with the state leadership. His cryptic tweets have targeted state leaders including Sidhu, so it would be interesting to see what happens when candidate selection comes under the scrutiny of the panel,” said a local leader.
Punjab Congress leaders were hoping to announce the opening candidate list by the first week of December but that has not happened. Both the Akali Dal as well as the Aam Aadmi Party have already come out with names of nominees for the polls.