With the Punjab assembly election heading for a tight finish, top leaders of the ruling Akali-BJP combine and contender Congress are focusing on election management to cut down rebel activity, smaller parties and religious sects which may turn out to be spoilers.
Shiromani Akali Dal's (SAD) deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal and Congress chief ministerial candidate Captain Amrinder Singh are grappling with rebel candidates and sulking party workers. And this week, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley visited party strongholds in Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Pathankot and Amritsar to get state leaders to sink their differences and work together.
The ground situation is such that all three parties are now seeking the support of smaller parties like CPI,
PPP and BSP in order to spoil votes for their rivals. The mainstream parties are even pitching in with funds for the campaign of the candidates of the smaller parties.
Although the ruling SAD-BJP alliance was expecting an electoral setback last week, the combine is upbeat now, with the junior partner expected to touch double figures in the forthcoming polls.
Even though party president Sukhbir Singh Badal has been privately confirming a figure of 60 plus seats for the Akalis alone, the BJP's assessment appears more realistic. It feels that a two to three per cent swing at the last moment may turn the election on its head.
The BJP's internal assessment is that the party may get between seven and 10 seats in the urban heart of Punjab, a distant cry from 19 it bagged in 2007.
The Congress campaign is led by an unusually aggressive Amarinder Singh, who is goading his cadre daily to take on the muscular tactics of SAD-BJP combine.
But although the party expects to touch the magic figure of 58 and go beyond that, it may have to pay a heavy price thanks to the rebel candidates — their number is no less than 13 even now.