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In first list for Punjab polls, Cong plays it safe, keeps Dr Sidhu, Pargat, SAD turncoats on hold

6The Congress created history of sorts on Thursday by releasing its first list of candidates before announcement of polls in Punjab. But it has played it safe by announcing names on just 61 seats out of 117, steering clear of ones where a consensus still eludes the party, including where MLAs who have quit the ruling SAD or BJP are vying for tickets.
One of the big surprises is absence of names of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu’s wife, Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu, and former hockey captain Pargat Singh, who were BJP and SAD MLAs from Amritsar East and Jalandhar Cantt, respectively. The duo had joined the Congress after Sidhu’s front Awaaz-e-Punjab split following the Bains brothers of Ludhiana allying with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The announcement of names on both the seats has been kept on hold, party sources said. Amarinder is rooting for former MLA and party candidate in the 2012 polls, Jagbir Brar, from Jalandhar Cantt. Navjot Kaur’s seat, though relatively rebel-free, will also be announced along with Pargat’s, it is learnt.
Former finance minister, and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s estranged nephew, Manpreet Singh Badal has been fielded from Bathinda Urban, the bastion of the ruling family. The seat falls in the Bathinda parliamentary constituency of the CM’s daughter-in-law, Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Manpreet had led from this segment when he lost to her in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
In another first, the political dynasties have given way to new rule of ‘one family, one ticket’. Three female MLAs have made way for men in the family. Amarinder, who has resigned as Amritsar MP, will return to his seat Patiala (urban), won by his wife Preneet Kaur in a bypoll.
Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa’s wife Charanjit Kaur Bajwa has opted out for brother-in-law Fateh Jang Bajwa in Qadian; and Nawanshahr MLA Guriqbal Kaur has amde way for son Angad Saini, 25, the youngest candidate on the list. The first list has six women, including three sitting MLAs.
“All care was taken to ensure winnability as key criterion,” said Amarinder. “There were several aspirants in the fray for some of the seats, those who did not make it to the final list will be accommodated once the party forms the government.”
But the rule has also delayed a final decision on seats where the party has to decide between father-son and grandfather-grandson. Sanaur MLA Lal Singh is willing to give up his claim for Samana for son Rajinder Singh, and 74-year-old Samrala MLA Amrik Singh Dhillon is more “winnable” in party surveys than his 26-year-old grandson Karanvir Dhillon.
Other than the five sitting MLAs who have opted out for family, the party has renominated 31 sitting MLAs out of 43 on the first list, including Rajnish Kumar ‘Babbi’ of Mukerian, who had won as an independent after being denied the Congress ticket but later associated with the party.
Former MP Vijay Inder Singla, a part of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s team, will contest the state polls for the first time. He had won the Sangrur LS seat in his debut election in 2009 but lost it to AAP’s Bhagwant Mann in 2014. Of the six new youth candidates on the list, half are cases of “son-rise”, including former state minister Sardool Singh’s son Sukhwinder Singh ‘Danny’, Angad Saini son of MLA Guriqbal Kaur and Kulbir Singh Zira, son of former minister Inderjit Singh Zira.
Other party stalwarts will contest their traditional seats — former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal from Lehra (also called Lehragaga), former Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Kumar Jakhar from Abohar, and incumbent CLP leader Charanjit Singh Channi from Chamkaur Sahib.
The seats where the seven-member screening committee headed by former Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot has still to finalise names are the ones where Amarinder wants to have his say, such as Ludhiana East from where he is keen to field former Ludhiana MP Manish Tewari. But sitting MP Ravneet Singh Bittu is opposing the move. The party has also skipped announcing candidates for assembly segments where it is trying to pacify rebels or swap or drop sitting and former MLAs.

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