After a whirlwind bitter campaign, Punjab finally began voting today. This time it's a three-cornered contest with the Congress vying with new-entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to dethrone the ruling SAD-BJP combine.
Here’s the lowdown on what’s at stake.
Scion of the erstwhile royal family of Patiala and former chief minister, Amarinder Singh, is leading the Congress to wrest power from the SAD-BJP alliance. It’s a huge political gamble for both Singh and the party with the former already having declared this to be his last stint in politics.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who announced Singh as the CM face of the party, did so just a week before the campaigning came to an end. While the AAP and SAD-BJP combine did not much waste time announcing their candidates, delay in ticket distribution in the Congress meant that most, including Singh, were camping in Delhi while other parties were out in the field campaigning.
Although Singh says they got enough time to meet the voters, many within his own party feel they could have put up a better show.
|Amarinder Singh is contesting from Lambi against incumbent CM Parkash Singh Badal, but has also kept Patiala as a safe seat. [Photo: Indiatoday.in]|
While the BJP is intensifying its Congress-mukt Bharat campaign, the grand old party needs to do some real soul searching. The Congress has already been wiped out of most parts of north India (barring Himachal Pradesh) and its presence is now limited to Karnataka, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
Uttarakhand and Manipur (where the Congress is in power) are also going to polls shortly along with Uttar Pradesh where the party is fighting the polls in alliance with the Samajwadi Party.
Amarinder Singh is contesting from Lambi against incumbent CM Parkash Singh Badal, but has also kept Patiala as a safe seat. The party also saw the induction of cricketer-turned-politician and former BJP MP Navjot Sidhu a little more than two weeks ago.
Aam Aadmi Party
For AAP, Punjab is potentially their best bet after Delhi to build a national profile. If it manages to do what it did in the national capital, AAP will emerge as a serious player in national politics. While in Delhi, where the AAP government has had frequent run-ins with the BJP-led Centre, in Punjab it will be in “full control”.
The AAP has already built its image as a party for the angry young men of Punjab. Even though the party may have lost some opportunities by slamming the door on Sidhu (there were rumours that the cricketer wanted AAP to spell out its CM candidate before a possible tie-up), it is challenging the likes of Parkash Singh Badal, deputy CM Sukhbir Badal and Amarinder Singh.
While Bhagwant Mann is its most (and only) popular face in Punjab, that the party has managed to become a formidable challenge is visible from the fact that both the Congress and SAD never miss to attack AAP in their rallies. That itself has been a big morale boost for AAP.
Also, the AAP started its campaign in Punjab way before other parties woke up. The Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal, spent more time in Punjab (than Delhi).
Sensing people's frustration, Kejriwal has been raising issues of corruption and drugs very vocally. While support for the AAP is more visible on social media, the party is also backed by NRIs.
The AAP has mostly concentrated on the Malwa region with 69 seats, which could be a game changer in a 117-seat contest. While Majha has 25 seats, Doaba has 23. But it is Malwa which holds the key. Unlike the other parties, AAP has given its tickets mostly to political newbies.
What has so far worked in favour of the AAP is that it had announced candidates for key constituencies much before the other parties, giving each of their candidates enough time to campaign.
Shiromani Akali Dal
The Badals are up for a huge, huge challenge facing anti-incumbency of 10 years. Unlike in other states where party patriarchs have passed the baton to their sons, 90-year-old Parkash Singh Badal is very much in the game. While the Badals are fighting the elections on the development poll plank - building roads, airports and even renovation of the holy city of Amritsar - they are also facing serious attacks over alleged embezzlement, drug menace and unemployment.
Both the Congress and AAP has fiercely attacked the Badals over drug menace and have even accused revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia (brother of Badal family daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal) of being the alleged kingpin of drug racket in Punjab. Kejriwal has promised to send Majithia to jail by April 15, if AAP comes to power.
The Badals have so far defended themselves by claiming that the allegations are nothing but a “bogey created by the opposition parties to defame them.”
There has been a serious concern over the law and order situation in the state as well even as people are angry over the various incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib.
But amid all the mudslinging and counter-allegations, it’s the voters who will finally decide which side of the story they want to believe.