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Field Ambika from Hoshiarpur, says Punjab Cong
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 18
The Punjab Election Committee is learnt to have recommended to the Central party leadership that AICC General Secretary Ambika Soni and former minister Balram Jakhar be fielded from Hoshiarpur and Ferozepore, respectively, for the coming Lok Sabha elections.

Except for Hoshiarpur where a change has been suggested, the panel has said all sitting MPs should be renominated. The sitting MP from Hoshiarpur Charanjit Singh Channi is the panel’s second choice for this seat.

While the state panel firmed up its recommendations, the Central Election Committee (CEC), which had its first preliminary meeting today, authorised Congress president Sonia Gandhi to decide on the seats held by sitting MPs. It was felt that as far as sitting MPs are concerned, Ms Gandhi has interacted personally with them for the past five years and is well aware of their respective strengths and weaknesses.

Ms Gandhi is expected to follow this up with consultations with senior state leaders on February 22 and 23 so that the process of candidate selection can be expedited. Party sources said the objective is to decide soon on the 112 seats held by the party so that the candidates can begin their campaign at the earliest.

Ironically while the CEC left it to Ms Gandhi to decide on the fate of sitting MPs, the Punjab panel held an informal meeting here today after it was told that the Congress president was not happy with the one-line resolutions passed by state election committees authorising her to decide on candidate selection.

Today’s meeting, attended by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and PPCC chief Hanspal, felt the party could have a revolt on its hands if it goes in for a major shake-up.

The panel was also of the view that sitting MPs should contest from their old constituencies as any change would send out a negative message. This was particularly mentioned in the context of sitting MP Jagmeet Singh Brar, who wants to shift from Faridkot and is stated to be on the look-out for a “safe seat”. Nevertheless, there is a perception that the party might have to field fresh faces from Ludhiana and Jalandhar as the Congress is not particularly well placed here.

As for former Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, the panel felt that in view of his seniority, the choice of constituency should be left to him provided he wishes to contest the Lok Sabha election. Jalandhar and Ludhiana are being suggested as the possible constituencies from where Dr Singh could contest.

In addition to the recommendations for the eight seats held by the Congress, the Punjab leaders have named former minister Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder and Rajya Sabha MP Ashwani Kumar as their choices for the Gurdaspur seat, at present represented by BJP minister Vinod Khanna.

Although there is a strong demand from party cadres that Mrs Bhattal should be fielded from Sangrur, she has declined and so her name does not figure in the panel’s list. Party sources said a clear picture about the remaining seats can only emerge after the Congress finalises its alliances.

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