Congress President Sonia Gandhi has overruled Prashant Kishor’s first piece of advice to the party’s Punjab unit president, Amarinder Singh, and has nominated Ramanjit Singh Sikki as the party candidate for the Khadoor Sahib byelection.
Kishor, who won fame as an election-winning strategist in Bihar, has been roped in by Amarinder for the 2017 assembly elections and had advised the Punjab Congress to stay away from the bypoll.
On Saturday, Sonia nominated Sikki as the party candidate, signalling that the Congress will contest the byelection. Party general secretary and Punjab incharge, Shakeel Ahmad, confirmed Sonia’s decision.
He told The Sunday Express that Sikki would file his nominations next week.
It is, however, far from clear if Sikki will emerge from his religious sabbatical in time to file his nomination papers. A baptised Sikh who won the Khadoor Sahib seat in the 2012 elections, Sikki resigned to protest the desecration incidents and the government’s handling of the protests that followed in October last year, thereby necessitating the byelection.
All through this month, his political secretary Gurminder Singh Hayer told The Sunday Express that he has been performing kar sewa at the Golden Temple and cannot take leave from his duties until January 31. The last date for filing nominations is January 27.
Hayer said Sikki would send a representative to file his nomination and added that the former MLA was now looking forward to the contest.
Punjab Chief Election Officer V K Singh said he could not tell off-hand if Sikki could be allowed to file his papers through a representative. He said all he knew was that jail inmates were allowed to file papers through proxy.
According to the EC website, where the candidate is unable to appear or prevented from appearing before the returning officer or the assistant returning officer, the oath or affirmation may be made before a person nominated by the Election Commission for the purpose.
The Congress had earlier been considering opting out of the contest on Kishor’s advice. He had said the party would be wasting time and money for a single assembly segment. A further complication was that while Sikki was the only obvious candidate for this hardcore panthic constituency, some in the party, including a Malwa MLA, pointed out that fielding him would provoke criticism that his resignation was not on religious principles but more a political ruse.
There were those in the Punjab Congress, however, who felt that not contesting would send out a negative message that the party was running away from an electoral contest.
Sources said even though Sikki’s candidature has been formalised, misgivings within the party on the candidate and the wisdom of contesting the election continue.