Chandigarh: As campaigning officially ended Saturday evening for Monday’s (Jan 30) election to Punjab’s 117 assembly seats, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance and main opposition Congress made confident claims to victory.
With neither of the two main contenders seeing a wave in their favour, both sides are keeping their fingers crossed.
Counting of votes takes place March 6.
What is worrying for both sides is the uncertainty surrounding the newly floated People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) of former state finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal and his third front (Sanjha Morcha). Both sides are unsure of how much the PPP will cut into their respective vote shares.
With the state going to polls under re-carved assembly seats, many candidates are testing themselves in new political waters, leading to further uncertainty.
There are a total of 1.76 crore eligible voters.
The Akali Dal-BJP combine has harped mainly on the development plank, claiming that Punjab has not witnessed as much development as has been seen in the last five years (2007-2012) of their rule.
“We have gone to the people with the sole agenda of development. Punjab has seen a sea change on the ground level with scores of flyovers, bridges, roads and other development projects. The opposition (Congress) has nothing to show. We are going to win between 80-85 seats. The mood among people is upbeat for us,” Akali Dal president and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said.
Led by Sukhbir, the Akali Dal wants to reverse the trend in Punjab where no party in over four decades has been returned to power after completing its term.
“There is no anti-incumbency. In fact, there is pro-incumbency. We will come back to power with more seats,” Sukhbir Badal asserted.
For the Akali Dal, this election is a testing ground for its relatively young president Sukhbir Badal, 49, the son of Punjab chief minister and party patron-in-chief Parkash Singh Badal, 84.
The senior Badal has largely been confined to his Lambi assembly constituency in Muktsar district in, perhaps, his toughest political test as he faces his younger brother, Gurdas Badal, 81, of the PPP and cousin Maheshinder Singh Badal of the Congress in a bitter triangular contest.
In the 2007 assembly polls, the Akali Dal had 49 legislators with alliance partner BJP winning another 19 seats (total tally 68). The Congress had 44 legislators while five seats were won by Independents.
The Congress too says it is smelling victory.
“We are going to form the next government. The Akalis are going to be wiped out. We will win 75-80 seats easily. All their claims of development are a sham. Most of the things have come from central government funds,” a confident Punjab Congress president and former chief minister Amarinder Singh said.
“We had hundreds of leaders wanting the Congress ticket this time. Everyone wanted to be on the winning side. That shows that we are coming back to power,” he added.
Top leaders of both the Akali Dal and the Congress are engaged in a bitter war of words, both in the media and their speeches.
Meanwhile, the PPP is asking the voters to opt for change.
“There was no third alternative for the voters earlier. We want to provide a clean set-up and we can see that voters too want a change. We will form the next government in Punjab,” party founder Manpreet Badal claimed.
Though no one is expecting the PPP to come anywhere near forming a government, its role, at best, will be that of a spoiler in many constituencies and probably that of a kingmaker if the Akali Dal and the Congress do not get a clear majority.
The PPP has formed the Sanjha Morcha with the Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Akali Dal (Longowal).
“A zero plus zero will remain a zero. They (PPP) have no standing at all,” Sukhbir Badal dismissed the challenge to his party from his estranged cousin, who was once touted to be the political heir apparent to Parkash Singh Badal in the state.
Though the campaigning has been without much colour of party flags, posters and banners, the flow of money, liquor and drugs has been ample despite a strict watch by the Election Commission (EC).
The EC teams and other agencies have recovered over Rs.33 crore of unaccounted money in cash, over 512,400 country wine bottles, over 16,500 litres of illicit liquor, nearly 30 kg of heroin, 2,700 kg of poppy husk and over 161,000 kg of other drugs.
Over 209,686 licenced weapons have been deposited with the authorities.