Congress’s attempt to woo Jat Sikh votes has backfired and strategy has now been moved to reclaim what was traditionally its own— Hindu and Dalit vote banks. Choice of candidates was seen as the major reason of party’s doom in 2012 elections. Another way to running from drugs in punjab case has been found out by political parties. Learning from the previous mistakes, Congress intends to get the poll math right by fielding candidates of the community whose numbers count.
Final list is expected to be out by mid-September after screening of names by the central election committee (CEC) of the party and the final nod of party president Sonia Gandhi. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal had fielded 11 Hindu candidates in the 2012 polls after sensing the need to reinvent his party’s ‘Panthic’ image. The Congress, on the other hand, had let loyalists and kinship be the deciding criteria for its candidates in many seats, urban or rural notwithstanding.
Result was Akali’s win with big numbers and great image building in urban population. In Mansa for instance, the party “accommodated” Gurpreet Gagowal, daughter-in-law of the sitting MLA Sher Singh Gagowal, as a last-minute entry to the candidates’ list. Sukhbir went for Hindu candidate Prem Mittal, who successfully breached the Congress bastion.
Congress pitched Hindu candidates even in Sikh-majority segments. Dharamveer Agnihotri lost from Tarn Taran and Mangat Rai Bansal from Maur with the exception of Arvind Khanna from Dhuri. Little wonder then that the seat tally of the Congress, which had won a majority of seats in the Malwa belt in 2007 state polls, was down by six.
“The SAD-BJP took more seats than us in Malwa. Many urban seats, especially those with mandis (grain markets) have considerable trader population. In such seats, the party may opt for Hindu candidates. For instance, on urban seats of southern Punjab districts of Bathinda, Mansa and Sangrur,” said Amarinder.
To regain the lost Dalit vote bank, the party is mulling shuffling some of its sitting MLAs. Amarinder says while no legislator would like to be dropped, a shuffle may be needed in some reserved seats.
As for Jat Sikh votes, Congress is banking on Amarinder’s recent activism on the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue — Captain has announced that he and Congress MLAs will quit their posts in case of negative verdict.