There were certainly no balle balle moments in Punjab this election. The fight between the Family Badal and Congress chief ministerial nominee Amarinder Singh is personal and unsavoury. Both accuse the other of corruption with Sukhbir Singh Badal, deputy chief minister and son of the chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, alluding to Amarinder Singh’s drinking and laidback attitude. And, of course, both have thrown promises of freebies galore at the electorate. But neither the Congress nor the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) seems to have a roadmap for the state which is struggling to stay on its feet.
Once the envy of other states, its economy is stagnant and unemployment is higher than the national average. At one time, Punjab was a favoured destination for investments, but today no one is queuing up at the door anymore. For the SAD, much will depend on the performance of its alliance partner, the BJP. There are no indications on the ground that the BJP is going to do better or even equal its past record. The fact that the Badals are a house divided will also work to the advantage of the Congress. Parkash Singh Badal’s nephew, Manpreet Badal, has formed his own party, the People’s Party of Punjab, after being edged out by Sukhbir Singh Badal, who clearly thought that his cousin posed a challenge to his eventual elevation to chief ministership. The Congress has perhaps played its cards right in projecting Amarinder Singh as its chief ministerial candidate. This has had the effect of galvanising the rank and file of the party given that Amarinder is both popular and a vote-catcher. But both parties have nothing much to offer other than the hackneyed themes of free power and sops to farmers.
The fact that farmers’ suicides have increased in the state as agricultural productivity has dipped does not seem to have moved either of them. Many had thought that the powerful chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, would endorse one or the other party. This would have given the chosen party a huge benefit. But the canny sect leader has chosen to maintain an enigmatic silence, asking people to vote for clean candidates. Drugs and alcoholism have become major problems among the youth of Punjab, once the most industrious in the country. Here again, apart from accusations and counter-accusations, neither party has come up with any scheme for employment generation except vague promises of creating new jobs. So, in effect, whichever party comes to power, the plight of Punjab, which is on a downward spiral, is unlikely to change. Not exactly the chak de phatte scenario which Punjab sorely needs.