With 21 more seats than Majha and Doaba put together, Malwa remains the game changer in Punjab polls. But the other two belts are not pawns in the game. In fact, in the last two polls, the politically-volatile belt of Punjab with 69 seats — up from 65 in 2007 polls after delimitation — remained a zero sum game, leaving it to Majha and Doaba to decide the winner.
Though the ruling SAD bettered its tally in 2012 polls over 2007, the base of ruling alliance has been shrinking in Malwa in successive elections. In 2007, Malwa went the Congress way as then Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh made political equity among the dominant Jat Sikh famers by terminating the river waters agreement act and managed to secure Malwa’s Dalits to his side by wooing Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda. The party clinched 37 seats in Malwa against 19 of Akalis and five by ally BJP. But even Malwa’s clear verdict failed to return Amarinder to power as the party suffered a near rout in Doaba and Majha, bagging just four seats in Doaba out of 25 and three in Majha out of 27.
In 2012, the Congress again underestimated the power of Doaba and Majha to together swing the balance in favour of the Akali-BJP. As SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal wooed the Dalit-dominated Doaba with populist schemes, such as attadal and shagun, the saffron party concentrated on urban and border seats. The Congress, which had lost the plot weeks before elections on choosing candidates, fighting rebels and then a slack campaign was able to keep its hold on Malwa — its tally went down by just five seats from 37 to 32 — but it again secured single-digit figures in Doaba (6) and Majha (8).
The Akali-BJP combine, on the other hand, made a clean sweep in Majha and Doaba again. With help of a 14-seat jump over their Malwa tally of 2007, they were back in power, rewriting Punjab’s history of returning alternate governments. Following delimitation, Malwa’s gain of four seats was Doaba and Majha’s loss of two seats each.
As Punjab votes again on February 4, the AAP has made inroads into both Congress and SAD-BJP bastions in Malwa. Ashutosh Kumar, professor of political science, Panjab University, says: “You need to win seats across the three belts to form the government. The AAP has an advantage in south Malwa. It may even sweep the bastion of ruling Badals such as Bathinda and Mansa. Malwa is the cotton belt which has seen farmer suicides after crop failure last year. The farmer is angry. In Doaba and Majha, the fight is between the SAD-BJP and Congress and anti-incumbency sentiments will benefit the latter. So overall, it may be advantage Congress.”
Dr Pramod Kumar of the Institute of Development and Communication (IDC), Chandigarh, attributes the AAP wave in Malwa to a “vocal voter” who is rooting for a change. “There are around 45 seats in Malwa from Sangrur, Bathinda and Mansa to Fatehgarh Sahib where the AAP is looking formidable. In other districts such as Ludhiana and Ferozepur, the Congress is looking good. In Doaba and Majha, the AAP will be more of a spoiler than a winner. Who forms the government will be decided by a sum total of all three belts. A lot depends on deras too. If the vote is against anti-incumbency, the Congress could emerge as the single largest party,” he said.