The Lok Sabha elections are turning out to be a quite a battle. Pushed to the wall and written off as the “losing side” by opinion polls, former allies and opponents alike, the Congress seems to be gearing up to the take the bull by its horn.
The party is planning to field its top leaders and former Chief Ministers against bigwigs of the rival BJP camp. So, it could be the Congress general secretary and two-time Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, against Narendra Modi in Varanasi, and former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, taking on Arun Jaitley in Amritsar.
While the Thakur from Madhya Pradesh has expressed his willingness to contest against Modi, Amarinder is being persuaded by the party to take on Jaitley. According to party sources, Digvijay’s proposal was being seriously considered but “no final decision has been taken yet”. AAP leader and former Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is also actively considering a contest against Modi.
However, Digvijay’s candidature, if announced, may change the game altogether. Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma made it clear that the Congress “under no circumstance will support the AAP candidate. We are an old party. We can fight our own battle.”
For the Varanasi seat, Rajesh Mishra and Ajai Rai, both local Congress leaders and Brahmins, are also pitching for the party ticket, eyeing the sizeable upper-caste votes in the constituency.
It may be noted that Modi is not just an OBC, he is also not-so-subtly playing the backward community card in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Amarinder, if put up against Jaitley, is seen to have a fair chance of defeating the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
The Congress might field former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh from Amritsar against Arun Jaitley of the BJP. Sources say that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has reportedly offered Amarinder to fight from the holy city of Amritsar against BJP national general secretary Arun Jaitley. Singh, who is in Delhi to attend a meeting of the Jat Maha Sabha, of which he is the president, is likely to meet Congress chief Sonia Gandhi after the meeting. Sources have it that Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa, who is not in good terms with Singh, has also suggested to the party leadership that Amarinder could be a formidable candidate to take on Jaitley. The Congress on Tuesday declared the candidature of Bajwa from his Gurdaspur seat.
During the 2009 elections, Bajwa had defeated four-time BJP MP from the seat and Bollywood actor Vinod Khanna.
Former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, a three-term BJP MP from Amritsar who has been at loggerheads with the ruling ally Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab for a while now, has been denied a ticket this time. Jaitley’s selection was the unanimous decision of the local BJP and alliance partner Akali Dal.
Earlier, dismissing speculations of contesting from Bathinda, Amarinder made it clear that he was not interested in contesting the Parliamentary elections. Now, the Congress has given the Bathinda seat to the People’s Party of Punjab and Manpreet Singh Badal is contesting from there.
When Amarinder was appointed as permanent invitee of the all-powerful CWC, his detractors comprehended his elevation as an attempt to take him away from state politics. Proving them wrong, Amarinder has, time and again, manifested his say in state politics.
His wife, Union Minister Parneet Kaur, the sitting MP from Patiala and has been given ticket this time as well, even as sources close to the ‘royal’ family point out that the Congress generally does not give two tickets to family members. But in the 2009 elections, besides his wife, his son Raninder Singh too was given ticket from Bathinda but lost to Harshimrat Kaur Badal of Akali Dal.
This new development has created a stir in the political circles of Punjab, especially in the Congress party, which is already in a demoralised state owing to reported in-fighting between senior leaders.