Chandigarh, December 23: Both the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress in Punjab are competing on 34 reserve seats going by the announcement of candidates so far. These reserve seats have been the domain of the Akali Dal by and large. The Congress is also not taking any chances even in case of sitting MLAs several of whom have been dropped, including on reserve seats.
Akali Dal succeeded in winning 21 of the total 34 reserve seats in the February 2012 Assembly elections. The party has swapped some of the candidates on these seats. Significantly, it is not only reserve seats from where Dalits have been fielded. The Akali Dal candidate Paramjit Singh Pamma from the general seat of Kapurthala too is a Dalit.
It may be mentioned that besides 21 Dalits, 11 Hindus too had won on the Akali Dal ticket in the last election. However, there are some changes in case of these seats too.
The Congress is working on the same strategy going even by the latest list of 16 candidates released today. Sitting MLA Mohammad Sadique has been shifted from Bhadaur to Jaito. Satnam Singh Kainth has replaced sitting MLA Tarlochan Singh Soond in Banga (SC). Soond is up in arms and has threatened to contest as independent. The Congress has put up Chaudhary Surinder Singh from Kartarpur (SC). The seat used to be represented by his father Chaudhary Jagjit Singh. The party decided against fielding former Akali minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur who had earlier joined the Congress. It was Sarwan who had won from here in the last election. He had to resign as his name had surfaced in the ED probe in drugs and money laundering. Questions had been raised about his induction in the Congress. The party has moved sitting MLA Ajaib Singh Bhatti from Bhucho Mandi (SC) to Malout (SC).
Dalits and the Hindus used to be the traditional base of the Congress in Punjab for decades. However, it is the Akali Dal that had majority of reserve seats in its kitty in six of the eleven Assembly elections. It is the Akali Dal that has consistently maintained this trend over the last several years thereby shattering the myth of the Congress hold. The Congress has been without a credible Hindu or Dalit leader since nineties. It is only now that new leadership is being groomed.
The Akali Dal has been focussing on Dalits and other weaker sections going by the policies of the Akali Dal-BJP government in the state. The renovation of Ram Tirath shrine associated with Rishi Valmik and Guru Ravidass memorial at Khuralgarh village in Hoshiarpur district are targeted at the appeasement of both Valmikis and Ravidasias. Most of the freebies are also for these sections.
Aam Aadmi Party has also released separate manifesto for Dalits. The Congress and the Akali Dal would release their manifestos after the announcement of the candidates. The Congress today release names of 16 more candidates and the Akali Dal three. The Congress has so far announced candidates from 77 out of 117 seats.
Indian Youth Congress President and sitting MLA from Gidderbaha Amarinder Singh Raja Warring had been lobbying to shift to adjoining Muktsar, the seat represented by Karan Kaur Brar. Karan has been re-nominated. She is among the only two leaders whose candidature is learnt to have been recommended by Sonia Gandhi. All others have been decided by the Central Election Committee of the party.
The Congress has put up Daman Bajwa, a new face, from Sunam. She is former National Students Union of India leader. The party has fielded Harvinder Singh Laddi, an associate of Manpreet Singh Badal, from Bathinda Rural. Manpreet himself is contesting from Bathinda Urban. Birenderjit Singh Pahra is also a new face from Gurdaspur although he represents political family.
According to sources, former state party chief and Rajya Sabha member Partap Singh Bajwa had also recommended some names to Rahul Gandhi. However, the election committee is going ahead with its own criteria. The seats that can pose problems are to be decided in the next lot as the time is too short.
In case of Akali Dal, suspense continues about Parkash Singh Badal and his Deputy Chief Minister son Sukhbir Singh Badal. Sukhbir has won from Jalalabad twice but this time there is question mark following revolt by Akali MP from Ferozepur Sher Singh Ghubaya whose son has joined the Congress defying all types of pressures. Jalalabad is dominated by Rai Sikhs, the community to which Ghubaya belongs. Badal himself has been contesting from Lambi since 1997.