As four Lok Sabha constituencies — Bathinda, Patiala, Sangrur and Faridkot — of Punjab's 13, vote on Thursday, it's not simply a fight between the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress. All four seats fall in the Malwa belt, a traditional Akali stronghold which the party is trying to regain.
Also at stake is the pride and future of Punjab's foremost political families: Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's and former CM Capt Amarinder Singh's. In Bhatinda, SAD chief and Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal's wife Harsimrat Kaur is pitted against Capt Amarinder's son Raninder Singh. Both sides have put in their best.
Even though it's a no-wave election, the resurgent mood in the Congress, which won only two seats in 2004, largely stems from the strong anti-incumbency ire against the SAD-BJP combine, which has little to write home about for its two years at the helm. Sensing the mood, the Congress has been harping on the government's non-performance and targeting Sukhbir Badal's style of functioning.
Noted political analyst Dr Pramod Kumar said: "Since local rather than national issues dominate the scene, it's going to be more of a mid-term assessment of the SAD-BJP government."
While the Congress has been banking on Capt Amarinder's charisma, the SAD-BJP combine is counting on the Badal father-son duo, especially Sukhwinder, whose organizational skills were credited for the victory in the 2007 Assembly polls. The SAD first played the development card and struck an emotional cord by raking up the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case. After the Congress denied tickets to Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, accused in the '84 riots case, the issue lost its edge.
The SAD's main worry is its longstanding rivalry with the Dera Sacha Sauda, a spiritual sect with considerable influence in the Malwa belt. In the 2007 polls, the Dera followers had voted en-masse in favour of the Congress.