Facing the storm of a strong anti-incumbency sentiment, the Akali think-tank has put in place a clever ticket distribution strategy for the high-stakes February 4 assembly polls in Punjab.
Under the plan, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) first axed 15 legislators, who in its reckoning were non--performers, tainted or deadwood, and then fielded first-timers in 26 segments. The move is seen as an attempt by the ‘panthic’ party to beat the anti-party mood in the state.
Equally significant is the move of the predominantly Jat Sikh party to field eight Hindu candidates---down by three from 2012 assembly poll---as part of its social engineering to enlarge the ambit of its political base. The gambit had earned rich dividends for the party in the 2012 assembly polls with nine of the 11 Hindu candidates emerging victorious.
The ticketing strategy holds the key to perception game of the Akalis in the run up to what is shaping up as a fiercely-contested three-horse race. “The percentage of Hindu voters in urban and semi urban seats that Akalis contest is either equal or more than the Panthic voters of the Akali Dal. That’s why we are fielding Hindu candidates,” a party leader said.
Of the total 60 Akali legislators, 34 MLAs are seeking re-election from the segment they represent, while seven MLAs were shifted to safer seats.
A dozen candidates have been re-allotted tickets from the segment they had lost in January 2012 polls. In 10 constituencies, the party has fielded ‘fresh’ candidates who were defeated in last polls in other segments. The micro-management is such that party has fielded a reserved category candidate Paramjit Pamma from a general seat in Kapurthala.
Also, among the contesting candidates are three retired IAS, while two are kin of former and serving bureaucrats.
“This exercise is based on three third- party surveys which were cross-checked by in-house teams separately. Based on these findings the candidates were dropped or rotated,” said an aide of Sukhbir Badald. What has bolstered the SAD strategy is a successful damage-control exercise in mollifying the rebellion over tickets. Badal appointed the potential rebels in different commissions that guarantee secured five year term with fat perks and prestige.
Pulling all plugs before the poll code, near 300 lesser trouble makers were parked as chairmen and vice chairmen of cash-rich boards and corporations. Not this, in its ticketing exercise the wily duo of Badal Sr and his son Sukhbir Badal have also outdone the Congress by giving tickets to 17 political kin.
Known for his micro poll management, SAD president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal set the ball rolling by naming 69 candidates in mid-November.
Before the Election Commission sounded the poll bugle on Wednesday, the party had fielded 89 candidates in total 94 seats it is contesting. Its ally the BJP is yet to declare candidates in 23 seats.
Punjab has 117 assembly constituencies. The main challenger, the Congress, is still grappling with internal dissensions to declare all the candidates. The high-stake February 4 assembly poll has become a life and death battle for Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is dubbed as ‘chief-minister-in-waiting.Third victory in a row will bring him closer to the chair of chief minister. Defeat will push the SAD and Sukhbir into political wilderness. If Sukhbir’s strategy succeeds or is shattered by the electorate will be clear on March 11—the day poll results will be out.