Acid test for Sukhbir Singh Badal in Punjab | india | Hindustan Times
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Acid test for Sukhbir Singh Badal in Punjab

If the SAD-BJP combine wins the majority of 13 Punjab seats, the credit will go to him. But, if it performs badly, the Deputy CM will have to take the blame as well. Manish Tiwari reports.

india Updated: Apr 26, 2009 23:44 IST
Manish Tiwari

The coming Lok Sabha poll in Punjab on May 7 and 13 will be a referendum on Sukhbir Singh Badal.

Though his father Parkash Singh Badal remains Chief Minister, 46-year-old Sukhbir, as Deputy Chief Minister in the cabinet, as well as president of the Shiromani Akali Dal, is leading his party’s campaign. Even before polls were announced, Badal Sr, 81, had been gradually handing over the day-to-day functioning of the administration to Sukhbir.

The present SAD-BJP government in the state thus has the stamp of Sukhbir all over. Do the people approve of his style of governance?

The polls will provide an answer. If the SAD-BJP combine wins a majority of Punjab’s 13 Lok Sabha seats, the credit will go to Sukhbir. His formal takeover as CM may well be hastened. But if it performs badly, everyone will blame Sukhbir too. Though his ultimate ascension to the CM’s chair is not in doubt, he will face a major setback.

“The government is seeking votes on the development plank,” said Pramod Kumar, noted Chandigarh based political analyst. “Thus local issues are getting prominence. Water, sanitation, power, police highhandedness — these are matters people are discussing instead of national issues. It seems more like a municipal election than a Lok Sabha election this time.”

Another political observer wondered if the SAD-BJP had adopted the right strategy. “It could prove a tactical mistake, since the people are being asked to judge the performance of the state government while voting for a new central government,” he said.

What is apparent is that the SAD’s attempt, midway through the campaign, to use the 1984 anti-Sikh riots against the Congress, is not working. After a journalist flung a shoe at P. Chidambaram on April 7, protesting against the Congress allotting tickets to Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, the SAD stepped in immediately to extract political advantage.

“The riots did become an emotive issue once the shoe was flung,” said former CM Capt Amarinder Singh, who is leading the Congress campaign. “But once the Congress withdrew these two candidates from the fray, the issue lost its relevance in Punjab.”

In both the 2007 assembly election and the 2004 Lok Sabha polls before it, the Congress was defeated by the SAD-BJP combine. In the assembly polls, the SAD-BJP alliance won 67 of the 113 seats, in the Lok Sabha, 11 of the 13 seats. But this time anti incumbency sentiment appears to be setting in, and the Congress may perform much better than before.