Monday, January 14, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Keen contests likely in Punjab
EC alert as it receives complaints daily
P. P. S. Gill
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 13
The two key players in Punjab politics, the Congress and the Akalis, have announced their candidates for the Assembly elections. The former has announced 106 candidates, conceding 11 seats to the CPI. The ruling Akali Dal has announced the names of 92 candidates, while, its partner, the BJP is still wrestling with its 23 names. The SAD has also given two seats to the Bahujan Samaj Morcha.

The Panthic Morcha, having failed to rope in the BSP, has released a list of 55 candidates, including the sitting MLAs, who are loyalists of the Sarb-Hind Shiromani Akali Dal.

The line-up so far shows that both the Congress and the ruling SAD have preferred “old hands”, with just a sprinkling of new faces and some women candidates. Consequently, the dissent and revolt in the ranks. Some aspirants who have been denied ticket are left with two options — to contest as Independents or twiddle their thumbs, crib and sulk. The rumble of protests from such of the aspirants is audible.

The one common culture found in all parties in the fray is the giving of tickets to relatives and confidants of those who matter. The result is husbands, wives, brothers, daughters and sons stand accommodated, much to the chagrin of those left high and dry.

A quick perusal of the lists reveals that in several constituencies the same candidates who contested in 1997, will vie for a berth in the Twelfth Vidhan Sabha.

No party probably believes in 33 per cent reservation for women. Only a semblance of their presence is visible. The Congress has given tickets to 13 women and the SAD to just four.

Interestingly, there would be two former chief ministers in the fray, Mr Harcharan Singh Brar and Ms Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, and one serving, Mr Parkash Singh Badal.

Another interesting addition is allocation of Congress ticket to relatives of two senior Punjab police officers — DGP Mahil Singh Bhullar’s son and DIG Mohammad Mustafa’s wife.

Alliances and adjustments on seat-sharing and later power-sharing among various political parties and groups have had their ups and downs, tie-ups and break-downs. The final team-up of candidates will be known only when the poll schedule is notified on January 16 and the process of filing of nomination papers begins and the last date for withdrawal ends.

The political contest contours, at present, are a pointer to close and keen fights ahead. The political stakes are very high for the Congress as well as the Akalis.

Fully conscious of the stakes involved, the Election Commission has taken double precautions. One, it has already sent observers for all 17 districts even before the notification. These observers’ main task is to ensure safety and security of the electronic voting machines. Punjab, for the first time, will have the entire one-day polling through EVMs. Two, after the polling is over on February 13, a new set of 17 observers will descend on the state. And just before the counting starts, the first set of observers will be back in action.

Meanwhile, the silsila of lodging complaints with the Election Commission is picking up everyday. Nearly 325 complaints of violation of the Code of Conduct have already been received. Most of these, obviously, are against the ruling party candidates.

Punjab has faulted in the very beginning over the issue of transfer of three deputy commissioners, necessitating the intervention of the high court.

The high political stakes, war-like situation on the border with Pakistan, reports of large-scale inward migration and sensitivity of the situation, all necessitate a close monitoring of the poll campaign by the commission.Back

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