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|February 2, 1998|
In Punjab it's a straight fight between the Akali-BJP and Congress-BSP combines
With the Congress-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance holding good, a straight contest is on the cards in most of the constituencies in Punjab.
From Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral to the scion of an erstwhile royal family, several stalwarts will be fighting for political survival even as realignment of forces in the state has queered the pitch for some.
The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), which shares power in the state with its electoral ally the Bharatiya Janata Party, has decided not to field a candidate against Gujral who is contesting from his former constituency, Jalandhar.
Gujral will be the lone Janata Dal candidate from the state for the February 16 election.
The BSP had, in the 1996 general election, tied up with the Akalis, but later the alliance fell through.
The ruling combine has also decided to extend support in Phillaur (reserved) constituency to Bahujan Samaj Party Morcha convenor Satnam Singh Kainth, who recently broke away from Kanshi Ram and the BSP to float his own political outfit.
In Bhatinda (reserved), the Congress withdrew its candidate Gurjant Singh in favour of Bhan Singh of the CPI-M which, however, is not expected to put up a fight in any other constituency.
The Congress and the SAD-B will each contest eight seats leaving four each to their respective allies.
The star dropout from the BSP list is party chief Kanshi Ram who successfully contested the Hoshiarpur constituency in 1996.
Kanshi Ram has shifted to Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP has fielded former Congress MP Kamal Chaudhary who joined the party after the Congress left the Hoshiarpur seat for its ally. Challenging Chaudhary will be state BSP chief Colonel C D Singh (retired).
The BJP sprang a surprise by fielding filmstar Vinod Khanna from Gurdaspur in an attempt to unseat the formidable Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder (Congress), the former Union minister who has been returned from this seat four times in a row.
Amritsar will see a contest between another former Union minister Raghunandan Lal Bhatia (Congress) and state BJP chief Daya Singh Sandu.
The country's attention, however, would be rivetted on Jalandhar where Gujral takes on former Punjab minister and Congress nominee Umrao Singh.
Former chief minister Surjit Singh Barnala, will take on Gurcharan Singh (Congress) and Simranjit Singh Mann, SAD (Amritsar) president, in Sangrur. Mann had unsuccessfully contested the last Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls.
In Ferozepur, the contest will be between Jora Singh (SAD) and Mohan Singh (BSP) who was a member of the dissolved Lok Sabha.
In Faridkot, the Congress is resting its hopes on Jagmeet Singh Brar who is challenging Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's son Sukhbir Singh.
The scion of the erstwhile princely state of Patiala, Captain Amarinder Singh, who joined the Congress last year after resigning from the SAD-B,, will take on Prem Singh Chandumajra, the candidate his former party has fielded in Patiala.
In Ropar, dissolved Lok Sabha member Satwinder Kaur Dhaliwal is pitted against the BSP's Man Singh.
Tarn Taran will witness a battle between Gurinder Pratap Singh (Congress), son of former chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon, and the SAD's Prem Singh Lalpura while Ludhiana promises a tough fight between Amrik Singh of the SAD-B and Gurcharan Singh of the Congress.
The Akalis had won eight seats in the state in the last election, followed by the BSP (three) and the Congress (two).
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