A.B.C... of Punjab polls | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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A.B.C... of Punjab polls

As a fever-pitch campaigning in Punjab tapers off ahead of the April 30 polling, Hindustan Times takes a look at players, phrases and trends that shaped the high-stake battle for the 13 Lok Sabha seats.

chandigarh Updated: Apr 30, 2014 17:59 IST
HT Correspondent

After its stupendous showing in the assembly elections in Delhi, the rookie party headed by Arvind Kejriwal appears set to do well in the Lok Sabha polls in Punjab. While Bhagwant Mann and HS Phoolka are its serious contenders from Sangrur and Ludhiana, respectively, party nominees are set to give the SAD and Congress a run for their money in Patiala and Amritsar too.

Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son, deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, are being severely tested. The duo, especially the boastful Sukhbir, not only underestimated the opposition Congress, but also got Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley embroiled in a tough fight. The Badals grossly misread the anti-establishment and are now banking on the NaMo factor to save face.

A former CM, he is the most popular leader of the Congress in the state and a lot hinges on the close contest in Amritsar LS seat. Dumped by his party after a string of failures, his unexpected candidature energised the party cadres. The doughty campaigner, who openly proclaims his preference for state politics, badly needs a win to get back into favour.

A raging poll issue. The Congress and AAP are blaming the SAD-BJP government for the scourge of drug addiction. Akali minister Bikram Majithia, accused by an arrested druglord of patronising the trade, and the state government are routinely slammed by the two parties in their poll rallies on this issue. The Akalis, on the other hand, blame the failure of the Centre to check drug smuggling for the problem.

Deserves kudos for its massive outreach programme for enrolling new voters and creating awareness in Punjab and elsewhere. At the same time, it is facing criticism in Punjab for not asserting itself enough. The opposition Congress has been unhappy with the EC officials for being too soft on the ruling combine, with Amarinder Singh even demanding removal of the chief electoral officer at one stage.

Fiery face-offs
Between the big guns set the tone for the parliamentary polls, with the contest between Arun Jaitley and Amarinder Singh for the prestigious Amritsar seat getting top billing. The two haven’t disappointed, going after each other hammer and tongs at the slightest opportunity and, at times, even without any provocation. Vinod Khanna-versus-Partap Bajwa in Gurdaspur and Harsimrat Badal-versus-Manpreet Badal in Bathinda are also thrilling fights.

Divided and down in the dumps after crushing defeats in successive assembly polls, the Congress was at a loss. But then the party high command, in a smart tactical shift, pushed top guns like Amarinder Singh and Ambika Soni into the fray, charging up its cadres. The calculated gambit has worked well. And, the Congress nominees have forced the Akalis on the backfoot.

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Daughter-in-law of the CM and wife of deputy CM, the ‘privileged’ sitting MP had everything going for her in Bathinda. The powerful duo showered perks of power on their turf. But what must be worrying her in the tough fight against brother-in-law Manpreet Badal is the anti-establishment mood against the Akali government. Her seat is the safest for the Akalis, though.

After its historic feat of retaining power with back-to-back victories in the state, the SAD-BJP combine is facing anti-incumbency undercurrent on account of corruption, non-fulfilment of poll promises and deteriorating law and order. What is also worrying them is that there is no sign of the ‘Modi wave’ sweeping the northern plains in Punjab. The Akalis are banking on their traditional pockets of support, besides ‘poll management skills’.

A key poll strategist of the BJP, Arun Jaitley has successfully run election campaigns for others. Pitted against Capt Amarinder Singh in his electoral debut, Jaitley had not expected such a tough contest. If his party forms the government, the advocate-turned-politician seems set for a key position. A win here would help.

The unreserved election symbol on which Manpreet Badal (now in the Congress) contested the 2012 assembly polls is a talking point. While Manpreet kept waffling over his poll plans, the ‘free’ symbol was allotted to his namesake propped up by the Akalis to confuse the voters in the bitter battle between the Badals for Bathinda. The ‘original’ Manpreet is contesting on the Congress symbol (the hand).

along with cash and drugs, has been traditionally used as a big incentive by political parties to keep the voters in high spirits and is flowing freely in Punjab despite the hawk-eye vigil of the poll authorities. The EC has seized 2.68 lakh litres of illicit liquor and 6.11 lakh bottles of country-made liquor, besides 1.19 lakh kg of lahan (raw material to make illicit liquor) so far.

He was the toast of his party in the 2009 elections in Punjab due to his connect with the Sikh voters. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is missing from the poll action this time. He has not addressed any election meeting in his home state so far. With three days to go for polling, there is still no sign of him.

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BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi gave an encouraging push to the election campaign of the Akali Dal-BJP when he addressed an impressive rally at Jagraon on February 23. As the Badal government is facing the ire of people more than it had anticipated, the 13 candidates of the SAD-BJP in the fray are banking heavily on the Modi magic to turn the tide in their favour.

Forced to face BJP leader Arun Jaitley in Amritsar, the Congress’ Amarinder Singh tried to jolt Jaitley by dubbing him an outsider. The Captain and Jaitley fought pitched battles initially. Slowly but swiftly, Amarinder retreated when Jaitley deflected the volleys towards Sonia Gandhi. Finally, the chapter was closed by both leaders. The echo of outsider barb was also heard in Anandpur Sahib. This was the commonly used weapon by Prem Singh Chandumajra and Ambika Soni against each other.

The Gurdaspur MP and Punjab Congress chief Partap Bajwa is perceived to be one of the architects of Congress’ game-changer move behind forcing its top guns to contest the polls. He himself was left with no option but to enter the fray. Now the challenge before him is to retain the seat. Victory will consolidate his leadership, while a defeat may eclipse his stature.

SAD president Sukhbir Badal was the first to set the ball rolling by naming six candidates before the EC announced the poll schedule. The move lent a headstart to the Akali campaign. But SAD’s gambit hasn’t gone in line with the script. Instead of creating ‘shock and awe’ in the Congress camp, the SAD has been stunned by the Congress’ game-changer move of fielding veterans.

Once a hardcore Akali and now a Congress candidate from prestigious Bathinda seat. This election will determine the political future of Manpreet Badal, the estranged nephew of the CM. He prides in calling himself a rebel and is making a determined bid to embarrass the Akali Dal as pitted against him is Harsimrat Kaur Badal.

During this long spell of campaigning and to plug with the crowd, the candidates in the fray had to bank on Bollywood stars. In Amritsar, Bollywood actors (including Vivek Oberoi and Poonam Dhillon) and cricket stars canvassed in favour of the BJP nominee Arun Jaitley, giving much-needed boost to the BJP campaign.

SAD president Sukhbir Badal engineered defections in the Congress as its three-time legislator Jeetmohinder Singh Sidhu resigned from the Vidhan Sabha and switched to the SAD along with former Congress minister Malkit Birmi. The poaching game by Sukhbir on the eve of the elections was aimed at rattling the Congress, which received another jolt when former minister Ishar Singh Meharban joined the SAD. The saga of switchovers touched a new low when Bir Devinder – the famous turncoat – re-joined Congress.

The best bets of AAP, Bhagwant Mann (Sangrur) and Harvinder Phoolka (Ludhiana), and Simarjeet Singh Bains, Independent candidate (Ludhiana) are emerging as potential threats. They threaten to take away a major chunk of votes, much to the worries of the SAD and Congress.

Facebook, Twitter and the blogs. The social media has emerged as the major weapon for candidates to reach out to the electorate. Majority of them used the medium to the hilt to take potshots at their rivals. Social media spiced up the war of words between Arun Jaitley and Amarinder in Amritsar.

As drugs have generated political heat in Punjab, the repeated attempts of former DGP (jails) Shashi Kant to add fuel to the fire just ended with a whimper every time he tried to rake up the issue. He ended up being dubbed as “publicity seeker or loud mouth” by his adversaries. The former cop failed to back his startling allegations against bigwigs with facts.

Puzzling political parties and poll pundits are three factors that can swing the election results in the most unpredictable way. One, which anti-incumbency will cut a wider swathe with voters – the one against the 10-year UPA rule or the other against the 7-year SAD-BJP regime? Two, whom will the unguided missile of Aam Aadmi Party damage more – the Congress or SAD-BJP? The third variable that can tilt the tight contest is: who will pull off a better voter mobilisation and booth management?

Will they boom or boomerang? That’s the risk political parties have taken by fielding young guns. The SAD is banking on Pawan Tinu (Jalandhar) and Manpreet Ayali (Ludhiana). MLA Simarjeet Singh Bains is contesting as an Independent from Ludhiana. The Congress’ hopes lie on Vijay Inder Singla (Sangrur) and Ravneet Bittu (Ludhiana).

Barring seats like Amritsar and Bathinda, the pace and mood of the elections has been dull. Political bigwigs and media attention remained focused on the high-stakes contests in these two constituencies all along. Modi’s five back-to-back rallies and Sonia’s public meeting at Barnala charged up the atmosphere somewhat in the closing stages. But that’s about it.