The outcome of the Punjab elections will depend largely on how the Congress overcomes the national mood, which is not favourable to it at the Centre, and how it exploits the huge anti-incumbency factor against the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine.
The key factors for the Congress, which is hoping to wrest power in the state, are the distribution of tickets to its nominees based on their winnability quotient and the damage the Sanjha Morcha (Joint Front) comprising Left parties and the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP), led by expelled Akali leader Manpreet Badal, can inflict on the ruling coalition.
In addition, the projection of Captain Amarinder Singh as the chief ministerial nominee can contribute in enhancing its chances, given that Parkash Singh Badal, the most formidable leader of Punjab, will lead the Akali-BJP charge.
The greatest worry of the Akalis is the damage potential of Manpreet Badal, who was unceremoniously driven out of the party by cousin Sukhbir Singh Badal, deputy chief minister. Sukhbir, who should have normally led the campaign from the front, has once again allowed his father to do so essentially because he knows that his own acceptability is still in doubt.
In addition, the senior Badal is the only one who can counter the influence of Manpreet and his father, Gurdas Badal, in the Gidderbaha-Muktsar area.
In the 2007 polls, the Akalis had suffered major reverses in the Malwa region, which accounts for 67 of the 117 seats in the state. The prime reason for the overall defeat of the Congress, which won 44 in the state, was that it lost 19 out of 23 seats contested by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Therefore, the Akali government for the first time was formed on the strength of the BJP seats. Things have dramatically changed since then. The BJP in Punjab has been facing corruption charges and three of its ministers had to quit following a scandal. Political pundits believe that the biggest advantage of the Congress is that it will go into the polls with most of the Hindu-dominated seats under its belt. This undoubtedly will be at the expense of the BJP.
The Akalis on their part have made themselves unpopular because of the shoddy implementation of their social schemes by jathedars in the party. In fact, the charge against them is that the administration was done through these jathedars and even district officials had to report to them in large parts.
Another significant factor in the polls is going to be how Manpreet and his father entangle the other father-son duo of Parkash Singh and Sukhbir in the electoral battle. It is learnt that Parkash Singh Badal may be pitted against Gurdas from the Lambi seat, with the Congress likely to field their cousin Mahesh Inder Badal from there. Similarly, if political speculation is to be believed, Manpreet, who is planning to contest from Gidderbaha, may find himself facing Harsimrat Kaur, Sukhbir’s wife.
The Sanjha Morcha has announced only 41 candidates so far and will bring out its complete list after the Congress and Akalis announce all candidates.
Another crucial factor in the polls will be that of the Dera Sacha Sauda, which has a huge following in the Malwa region. The impressive Congress showing last time was also because of the Dera support. It is expected that the Dera followers may stand behind some individual Akali candidates but they may silently back the Congress.
In the end, it is a battle that the Congress has no business to lose but if that happens, there will be huge ramifications for the Central government.