Campaigning for the crucial Punjab assembly elections ended on Sunday with incessant rain continuing to play a spoilsport for the second consecutive day.
If it was the Congress that bore the brunt of the rains on Saturday with cancellation of elections rallies of AICC president Sonia Gandhi, BJP stalwart and former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani failed to make it to Patiala on Sunday, leaving Akali-BJP supporters disappointed. However, both Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and Akali supremo Parkash Singh Badal, braved the rains and addressed rallies in support of party candidates in the Malwa region.
Claims and counter claims of party leaders apart, both the Congress and Akali Dal-BJP combine seem to be locked in a fierce contest and at the moment predicting the outcome of the polls would be risky. However, the extended Malwa region, which otherwise happens to be traditionally an Akali stronghold, holds the key of success for the Congress that is hoping major gains from the area. There are 65 seats in the region, extending from Ferozepur to Ludhiana on one side and Patiala on the other, and the Congress at present has only 29.
"We expect major gains from Malwa," said Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh claiming that the revival of cotton crop and scrapping of water accord with the neighbouring states, putting an end to the issue of SYL canal, would reap benefits for the Congress. He claimed that Congress would also be able to retain its supremacy in the Majha and Doaba regions.
Notwithstanding his claims, the Congress is expected to suffer some losses in both Majha and Doaba, where it presently holds the bulk of the seats. Of the 27 seats in Majha, the party has 17, and in Doaba its tally is 16 of 25 seats. "Congress is almost at its peak in these areas and is bound to lose some because of anti incumbency," said a senior Congress leader.
The Congress' final tally in these areas would also depend much on the performance of the BJP, which is contesting a majority of its 23 seats from these regions. Political observers say that if the BJP does well and touches double figures, which seems unlikely at the moment, it could spell trouble for the Congress.
Dalit factor: Though the state has the highest Dalit population of 30 per cent in the country, the BSP, whose founder Kanshi Ram hailed from Hoshiarpur, has not been to make a place for itself. The party had the highest vote share of 16 per cent in 1992 but in the subsequent elections it has remained between 4 to 7 per cent. The BSP has fielded 114 candidates and political observers feel that if it manages more than seven per cent share this time, it could adversely affect the Congress on about 10 to 12 seats.
Issues: In contrast to the previous elections, the political agenda in the state has shifted from Panthic issues and both the Congress and the Akalis have made development their poll plank. Even issues like the 1984 riots and operation blue star have taken a back seat and cheap atta-dal for the poor is the USP for both the parties.
Surrogate ads: Notwithstanding the changed agendas, the campaigning has remained quite personalised with both the parties indulging in personal vilification through surrogate ads. The media, specially the print, has been used extensively by the parties for their below the belt campaigns. While anti Sikh riots and blue star was missing from political speeches, it did find a mention through full page ads in vernacular dailies.
Fact Sheet: (Attached) Polling would be held for 115 seats, as elections for Valtoha have been countermanded due to the death of a candidate and Beas postponed due to violence and alleged murder of an Akali worker.