Notwithstanding the respective claims of gaining absolute majority by the Congress and the Akali Dal-BJP combine, possibilities of a hung assembly in a photo finish contest, as predicted by some exit polls, have raised the ‘stock’ of the likely “winning” independents.
With independents expected to play a vital role in the formation of the next government and Punjab likely to go the Jharkhand way, if the contest really ends up as a cliff hanger, security of all independents has been increased and a close watch is being kept on them. Senior police officials confirmed to Hindustan Times that each independent has been given two additional Personal Security Officers (PSOs) to ensure their safety and prevent their possible “abduction” before or after the declaration of results.
While on record leaders of both the Congress and the Akali Dal deny having approached any of the independents so far, privately they admit of having opened channels of communications with them. If Congress sources are to be believed about eight independents, who have a fair chance of winning, have been short listed and talks are on with them.
“Yes we are in touch with some of our party rebels,” said a senior Congress functionary maintaining that it was only natural in such circumstances. “They are our people and why shouldn’t we woo them back,” he said.
A rebel candidate of one of the mainline parties, who is a hot favourite in the Malwa region, confirmed that he has been approached by both the Congress and the SAD. “No big leader has so far met me, but I have started getting feelers from their cronies,” he said requesting anonymity.
Apart from the exit polls, the assessment by intelligence agencies, both the state and central, that no party may get a clear majority and the lead between the winner and loser could be just two to three seats, has fuelled speculation on the role of the independents. Senior Home department sources revealed that the Punjab CID and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) have predicted between 50 to 60 seats for both the Congress and the Akali-BJP combine. Incidentally both these assessments predict a gap of only three seats between them.
While one would have to wait till Feb 27 for the final outcome, horse trading cannot be ruled out in case the results go the exit poll way.