It's no wonder Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal is counting on alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to do well this time too.
The BJP, the junior partner, had played a significant role in the return of the combine to power, winning 19 of the 23 seats – a phenomenal 83% success rate. While SAD and its rival Congress were neck and neck winning 48 and 44 seats respectively, the BJP had made all the difference, virtually sweeping the urban areas.
But then it may be a somewhat different story this time. The party, which has had fluctuating fortunes in the last few general assembly polls, appears to be grappling with anti-incumbency, factionalism and dissatisfaction with the government among its urban support base. Besides, it does not have a prominent face with statewide appeal and vote-catching ability and will have to depend on its national leaders sway on the electorate.
The party leaders concede that the allegations of corruption against some leaders and reshuffle at the fag end of the tenure of the present government in which three ministers and one chief parliamentary secretary were changed dented the party’s image. On top of it all, its own leaders leveled allegations of corruption against each other.
While the party has tried to deflect the anti-incumbency factor by fielding eight fresh faces, some of those who faced charges of irregularities have been retained because of, what the party leaders called, the “winnability” factor.
“The BJP has undoubtedly played a major role in forming the alliance government in the state. Though there are some who call it an alliance of parties in pursuit of interests of two different communities, it has helped them. They have been consolidating their respective vote banks – Hindu traders for BJP and Sikh peasantry by SAD. But when the government fails to come up to the aspirations of the supporters of the BJP it tilts the balance in favor of the Congress party,” said social scientist Dr. Sucha Singh Gill.
In the latest tenure too, the BJP leaders have been frequently griping about the discrimination in distribution of funds in favor of rural areas, which is where its partner gets most of its support. Another grudge the party cadres have had against SAD is that when in government there were not allowed to “flourish” in rural areas. “These issues are expected to hamper BJP’s poll prospect in the coming elections,” according to Dr Gill.
BJP leader and former minister Balramji Dass Tondon, however, remains hopeful of the performance of his party. “Our main opponent Congress is weak and there is strong anti-incumbency against it at the Centre due to its failure to control price-rise and charges of corruption. The development carried out by our government in Punjab is our strength and the people want the alliance continue in power,” he said.
1. Complements its partner, which has rural support base, well in urban areas
2. Cadre-based party with a well-defined hierarchy
3. Appeal in the Hindu trading community
1. Troubled by factionalism within the party
2. Dissatisfaction with government in urban areas with government performance
3. Lack of tall leader with vote-catching
2007: 23 19 8.21%
2002: 23 3 5.67%
1997: 22 18 8.33%