Punjab polls: Congress favourite in a fight to the finish

Punjab polls: Congress favourite in a fight to the finish
Campaigning in Punjab ended on Thursday evening and it is now over to the voters to deliver the mandate in the bitterly contested Assembly polls. The incumbents, particularly the Akalis, appear to be heading for a meltdown. The joust for power is reduced to a fierce no-holds-barred contest between the frontrunner Congress and the formidable rookie Aam Aadmi Party, which may be closing in fast. For once, the plummeting stock of the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine is worrying the Congress. Simply put, SAD’s loss in the vote share will be the AAP’s gain.

An abysmally poor showing by the combine could dampen Congress’ prospects. Political experts do not rule out a split verdict: the AAP’s political stock has been down and up. Punjab’s vulnerability to a return of terror got credence yet again after a bomb blast in Bathinda on Tuesday night. Indications are that it was a terror strike. The AAP is in the line of fire, defending a barrage of uninviting questions. The radicals pitching for the AAP and its ‘inroads’ in the ‘panthic’ space tends to alienate the liberal Sikh voters, and the Hindu voters who are over 40% of the electorate.

Punjab’s heartland Malwa is crucial to the success. The region accounts for more than half of the total 117 seats. The AAP has emerged a gainer in many parts of this region where both the Congress and the Akali Dal have commanded a sizeable clout. For the Congress and the SAD, quintessential to the campaign has been the rhetoric surrounding an overbearing anti-government, anti-Badal sentiment and the flogging of AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. Both the Congress and the Akali Dal adopted a take-no-prisoners approach when it came to dealing with the AAP.

The Akali Dal has shown more ‘anxiety’ during the campaign. Badal ‘bahu’ and Union minister Harsimrat Kaur the other day made an emotional speech explaining how she and her husband, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, could spend little time together or with the children, and how Sukhbir neglected his health for the sake of the state. SAD’s political rhetoric kept altering fast – from flaunting development, to Kejriwal and his party’s ‘anti-national’ radical credentials and then to seeking refuge in Narendra Modi as Punjab’s saviour.
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