Resurgent Cong takes on well-entrenched Akali Dal

Resurgent Cong takes on well-entrenched Akali Dal

Resurgent Cong takes on well-entrenched Akali Dal

The glimpse of a decisive edge for any one political party in elections appears missing in Punjab with just three days left for polling.

Unlike many other states where psephologists and opinion polls are predicting clear outcomes, Punjab is a close call where the Congress is fighting stridently than ever before against the incumbent regime of the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine.

The Congress’ vote share in the last general elections in 2009 was more than the vote share of the SAD and BJP put together.

But that was when the UPA-I was optimistically transitioning into a second term.
The edge of the Congress in Punjab has since been blunted.

So much so that till early this month, the poll bugle for the summer slugfest sounded like the last post for the Punjab Congress.

The party never looked battle-ready.

But the sweepstakes changed for the party which has fielded its best-bet leaders, many who till recently were shying away from taking the poll plunge citing one or the other reason.

The turf is laid out for the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab.

The epicentre of elections has been the holy city Amritsar, and why not? A seat that was considered safe and handpicked for Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, fighting his debut Lok sabha poll, is now anything but ‘safe’.

Jaitley’s Congress opponent and former CM Capt Amarinder Singh is no easy adversary to handle in politics by any standard, and that’s what has turned this seat into a no-holds-barred contest that will decide much of what is beyond victory or defeat on May 16.

Punjab’s 13 Lok Sabha seats may not be a big number to count on comparatively.

But electorally, Punjab attracts more significance than many other states.

It’s a border state fenced by a 550-km boundary with Pakistan.

It’s an agrarian state with a history of bloodshed and insurgency.

Punjab contributes the most of the traditional wheat-paddy crop to the country’s grain basket.

Punjab issues are peculiar in nature: Farmer suicides galore, one in seven youth are drug addicts and the state’s heartland is dubbed as the cancer capital of the country.

Yet, all these issues have arguably been reduced to political rhetoric in poll season.

The arithmetic of the general elections in Punjab has been that the party which won the Assembly elections loses seats in the Lok Sabha polls.

The Akali Dal-BJP scored victory in the 2007 Assembly elections but the party lost seats in the general elections two years later in 2009.

In 2002, it was the Congress that won the Assembly elections, but lost seats to the SAD-BJP alliance in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

But there is enough reasoning to defy this pattern.

The SAD-BJP won a second term in the last Assembly elections in a state where no government had ever been repeated in office.

The SAD, under the command and control of heir apparent Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, has looked like a party always in ‘work-mode’ while its opponent Congress is increasingly crisis-prone.

The SAD in its new avatar is no more a party drenched in religious moorings and stereotypes. 

Its alliance with the BJP is one that has proved to be a model alliance of sorts, barring insignificant skirmishes.

In case the NDA comes to power, the SAD would fancy a dream run, both for its party prospects and Punjab.

The Congress suffers from periodic bouts of acute infighting, especially among its top leaders.

‘Modi Sarkar’ vs anti-incumbency

The SAD is banking its campaign and prospects on the ‘return of the NDA’, the formation of ‘Modi sarkar’ and of course, the development the regional outfit has undertaken in the last seven years of rule.

SAD leaders are raising the pitch on ‘discrimination’ towards Punjab under the UPA and a Sikh PM.

They are also sparing no opportunity to raise the issue of corruption in UPA II.

The big ticket seat to BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley has left the SAD leaders excited. Badal even talked about benefits Punjab would reap under Jaitley as country’s next “deputy PM.’

This elections, the Akali Dal has again raked up the issue of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots with an eye on the vote bank.

The alliance is going to town with its initiatives on governance reforms, including the enactment of the Right to Service Act, thermal power plants, airports, highways etc.

Affidavits have replaced self-attestation of forms and land records are just a click away. Punjab has grown in terms of infrastructure in the last few years.

Highways, air connectivity and public transport system have improved.

The SAD has succeeded in roping in big industrial houses that promise massive investment.

On the other side, the Congress hopes the anti-incumbency of the state government will improve its prospects on April 30.

Leaders in poll fray are campaigning on local issues of alleged misrule, high-handedness and vendetta being pursued by SAD leaders.

Congress leaders are making drug trade and the alleged political patronage rendered by some SAD politicians a major issue.

The last-minute entry of Capt Amarinder Singh in poll fray has infused new life in the low-on-morale Congress cadre.

Interestingly, with just days left for campaigning to end, there’s no plan to bring in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to campaign in Punjab who hails from Amritsar.

Debutant AAP is hoping a sizable vote share, but whether or not it will translate into seats remains to be seen.

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