CHANDIGARH: Congress has decided to bank upon its core team for the poll fray for Punjab as it prepares for February 14 elections with staunch Gandhi family supporters like MP Pratap Bajwa, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Kuljit Nagra making it to the first list of 29 candidates, sources said.
The three leaders enjoy close proximity to both Rahul Gandhi and sister Priyanka.
Bajwa, who earlier served as Punjab Congress chief and cabinet minister, is the only sitting party MP so far to jump into elections. His Rajya Sabha term expires this year. He is likely to be contesting from Qadiya. His brother Fateh, who was elected from the same seat in 2017, has rebelled against him and gone with the BJP.
While it was Priyanka who inducted Sidhu in January 2017, 20 days before polls when he went on a whirlwind tour in the state in more than 38 constituencies, of which the party registered wins in 36 seats, Nagra has been a silent worker and loyal with his past designations including national general secretary and Congress in-charge for Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. All three have been fierce anti-Akali Dal faces and are known to pick up battles against Badals.
Congress has also retained some of its old faces known as part of a Majha brigade — Tripat Rajinder Bajwa, Sukhjinder Randhawa, Sukhbinder Sarkariya and Ramanjit Singh Sikki — who have enjoyed a love-hate relationship with former CM Capt Amarinder over the last 15 years.
Amarinder’s own relationship with Congress went sour last year.
Among the surprise picks may be Lakhwinder Singh Wadali, a popular Sufi singer. Wadali is being considered for contest from Attari. Actor Sonu Sood, who himself toyed with both Aam Aadmi Party, Shiv Sena and Akali Dal earlier, has likely got his sister Malvika a ticket from Moga.
However, much like his comeback in the 111-day Channi cabinet, Congress has again handpicked Rana Gurjit, who had to resign following the alleged involvement of his cook and employees in bagging mining rights in Punjab, within three months of government formation in 2017.
His cook Amit Bahadur, a 36-year-old formerly employed as a cook and director at Gurjit’s company had made the winning bid of Rs 26 crore for sand mining rights in May 2017 Punjab government auction. He had income returns (ITR) of less than Rs 1 lakh for the past three years. Gurjit had to later resign in 2018.
Punjab CM Charanjit Channi, who was an independent legislator before he joined Congress in 2012, has also courted controversies over accusations by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Badal. Badal had last month disclosed that Channi pleaded before him to drop the name of his brother Manmohan from Ludhiana City Centre scam. Channi, a Dalit leader, is also facing internal backlash from Congress senior party leaders for garnering the top post while the party ignored other four-time and five-time legislators. Congress is likely to field him from Chamkaur Sahib.
So far, the Congress has refrained from making any decision on announcing Channi as the CM face, looking at the possible squabble it may lead into with as many as 9 CM faces including a quiet Manpreet Badal and Sidhu. Manpreet, who openly revolted against Sukhbir, has been the permanent fixture of Congress’s campaign teams for several state and Lok Sabha elections since 2016.
Other contenders include Bajwa, Randhawa, Brahm Mohindra, Bhattal among others.