Is Punjab in for a political change this time with the Congress having lost to the Shiromani Akali Dal for the last two consecutive terms in 2007 and 2012? It would seem so with anti-incumbency stacked against the SAD-BJP combine and in particular against the veteran — chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy chief minister son Sukhbir Singh Badal.
As the campaign chief of the Congress, former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh has a spring in his stride as this election might be his swan song. He is keen to teach the Badals a lesson of sending them into political oblivion.
Former Test cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu makes a “”ghar wapsi”” to the Congress having been disillusioned with the BJP. He is seeking a makeover of Punjab and taking it to the heights it once enjoyed by evolving policies rather than indulging in bluster and hollow rhetoric.
The Congress has the highest stakes in Punjab and has an even chance of winning there among the five states going to the polls in February-March. The results will be known on March 11.
And last but not the least is that “”sneaky little fellow”” as Capt Amarinder Singh describes Aam Aadmi party convenor and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal trying his fortunes in Punjab. There is no doubt Kejriwal made a tremendous impression initially and if the assembly elections in the border state had been held six months back it was widely believed the AAP would have won hands down.
Since then much water has flowed under the bridge with the AAP being hit by splits and scandals shattering their chances of forming the government in Punjab. At the same time the fledgling AAP can still be a spoiler. It may be recalled that in the 2014 general elections the AAP won four Lok Sabha seats out of the 13 in Punjab garnering 25 per cent of the vote share.
The maverick Kejriwal feels Punjab is important in pursuit of his national ambitions in the next general elections in 2019. Under these circumstances both the Congress and the SAD have been compelled to launch a frontal attack against the AAP supremo. Ironically, even though in the last decade Punjab has enjoyed surplus power, several infrastructure projects encompassing heritage makeover along with making available subsidised atta-dal coupled with pre-poll sop of creating jobs.
All this has failed to soothe the ruffled feathers of the electorate against the SAD. They are hoping to capitalise on fielding the disgruntled in the Congress and the AAP in the hope of splitting the votes in favour of the Akalis. Whether this strategy works as evidenced in 2012 when the Akalis won a second consecutive term remains to be seen.
With the entry of the AAP in the electoral fray in Punjab, political equations have changed for the first time. There is an impression that the Akalis had encouraged lawlessness and condoned the high-handed attitude of its local leaders. The business interests of the Badals and their extended family has also come under close scrutiny.
The alienation of the “”Pathic vote”” can cost them dear. The pardon granted to the controversial Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who was charged with blasphemy by the Sikh clergy controlled by the Badals and a series of acts of desecration of the Sikh holy book had led to palpable anger against them.
On the other hand the Congress has been affected by factionalism, poor distribution of tickets and lack of efforts to keep its flock united. The delay in finalising its candidates once again is due to infighting with various factions propping up their own candidates. Reports suggest that Congress rebels have raised the banner of revolt in no less than 30 out of 117 constituencies in Punjab. With the likelihood of a three-way division of votes, political pundits and psephologists have become rather cagey in giving their assessment of the likely outcome indicative of the Punjab assembly elections going to the wire.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)”