Campaigning for the crucial Punjab assembly elections ended on Sunday with incessant rain continuing to play spoilsport for the second consecutive day.
If it was the Congress that bore the brunt of the rains on Saturday with the cancellation of elections rallies of party president Sonia Gandhi, BJP stalwart and former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani failed to make it to Patiala on Sunday, leaving Akali-BJP supporters disappointed.
However, both Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Akali chief Parkash Singh Badal braved the rains and addressed rallies in support of party candidates in the Malwa region. The Congress also pressed in its star MP Govinda to campaign and counter the Hema Malini factor.
Another BJP star Navjot Singh Sidhu's fate will be decided from Amrtisar Lok Sabha constituency, which is also going to the polls simultaneously.
Claims and counter-claims apart, both the Congress and the Akali Dal-BJP combine seem to be locked in a fierce contest, so 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 to success for the Congress that is hoping for major gains from the area. There are 65 seats in the region, extending from Ferozepur to Ludhiana on the one side and Patiala on the other, and the Congress at present has only 29.
"We expect major gains from Malwa," said Amarinder Singh claiming that the revival of the cotton crop, scrapping of the water accord with the neighbouring states and putting an end to the issue of SYL canal, would help the party at the hustings. He claimed that the 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 seats. Of the 27 seats in Majha, the party has 17. In Doaba, it has 16 of 25 seats in the region. "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 on the performance of the BJP, which is contesting most 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.
The 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 able to make a place for itself. The party had the highest vote share of 16% in 1992, but plunged to 4-7% in the subsequent elections. The BSP has fielded 114 candidates and political observers feel that if it manages more than seven per cent vote share this time, it could adversely affect the Congress in about 10 to12 seats.
Harping on development
In contrast to the previous elections, the political agenda in the state has shifted from panthic issues. Both the Congress and the Akalis have made development their poll plank. Even issues like the 1984 riots and Operation Bluestar have taken a back seat and cheap atta-dal for the poor is the USP for both the parties.
Notwithstanding the changed agendas, the campaigning has remained quite personalised with both the parties indulging in personal vilification through surrogate advertisements. The media, specially the print, has been used extensively by the parties for their below-the-belt campaigns. While the anti-Sikh riots and Bluestar were missing from political speeches, they did find a mention through full-page ads in vernacular dailies.
Polling would be held for 115 seats, as election for Valtoha has been countermanded due to the death a candidate and Beas postponed due to violence and the alleged murder of an Akali worker.