Chandigarh, Nov 22: Punjabs main opposition Congress party has missed its own deadline for announcing candidates for the assembly elections in the state six months before the polls, even as the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the new challenger, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), have taken a lead in doing so.
While assembly elections are likely to be held in the last week of January or early February, as per Election Commission of India officials, the Congress is still grappling with the names of its candidates for the 117 constituencies.
Punjab Congress president and former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh stated in December last year that he would press for the announcement of candidates to be made at least six months before the polls.
"By that measure, the names should have been announced in August. This delay in announcing names had happened before the 2012 assembly polls too and the party lost an election that it could have won. Even if all the names are not announced, at least the first list of candidates who are definitely to be fielded or unlikely to be changed should have been announced. The AAP and the Akali Dal have already taken a lead over us on this front," a senior Congress leader, who was also a former minister, told IANS here.
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"If names are announced too close to elections, the rebels can damage prospects of party candidates during the crucial campaign period. If names had been announced earlier, things could have been controlled," added the leader, who did not wish to be identified and is an aspirant this time too.
In typical Congress style, the 34-member Punjab Congress Election Committee, headed by Amarinder Singh, has authorised Congress president Sonia Gandhi "to take the final decision on ticket allocations". This was done on Nov 20.
The first list of Congress candidates is likely to be announced in the first half of December, leaving about 45-50 days for the candidates to campaign.
"The Congress president will finalise the names after the central screening committee submits its views on the candidates shortlisted," Amarinder Singh said here.
In contrast, the AAP, which is posing a political challenge to the ruling Akali Dal- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine and the Congress, released its first list of candidates in August. The party, which has been grappling with internal issues in the past couple of months, has so far declared 80 candidates and is ahead of the other parties.
The AAP was believed to be going strong in Punjab till June. However, the party's graph has plummeted in the past two to three months, mostly due to internal bickerings.
The Akali Dal, which has been in power with alliance partner BJP since 2007, has also announced its first list of 69 candidates on Nov 16. The Akalis, who appear quite confident of getting a third term, will contest 94 seats, leaving 23 for the BJP.
The BJP too has not announced its list of candidates so far.