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HindustanTimes Thu,25 Dec 2014

The return of Punjab to bipolar politics

Sukhdeep Kaur, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, August 26, 2014
First Published: 00:03 IST(26/8/2014) | Last Updated: 18:05 IST(26/8/2014)

The verdict in the two bypolls, one each in a bastion of the Congress and the ruling Shriomani Akali Dal (SAD), may not have any surprises but it has helped both break own jinxes.

If the Congress has won its first bypoll since the SAD-BJP came to power in 2007, the Akalis also have reclaimed Talwandi Sabo after 19 years. But equally, if not more, heartening for both main parties is the return of Punjab to bipolar politics after the Aam Aadmi Party broom (its poll symbol) swept their vote banks in the recent Lok Sabha elections, giving Punjab an alternative party that could win.

After the parliamentary contest results, the Congress and the SAD had been quick to dub the emergence of the AAP in Punjab a “fluke”. The prophecy seems to have proved right. SAD president and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Monday said the people had routed the AAP because of its disruptive agenda.

“We had maintained that the AAP would be rejected by the people of both constituencies, as the party is anathema to Punjabis, who want peace and progress. We have been proved right,” he claimed in a statement. The deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Captain Amarinder Singh, while campaigning at Patiala, had asked people not to waste their vote on the AAP, which he said was a “one-election wonder”.

The near-annihilation of the AAP is good news for the Patiala royalty, the upbeat Amarinder camp should sense the danger in the steep fall of its vote share by 10%. The Congress’ loss is SAD’s gain, as the latter has almost doubled its vote share in Patiala urban seat in just three months since the parliamentary polls.
 
Capt on winning spree but Bajwa ‘not out’ 
The 50-50 verdict is more bad news for beleaguered state Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa in his ongoing battle of supremacy with Amarinder. Bajwa, who lost from Gurdaspur in the Lok Sabha polls, was forced to confine his energies to Talwandi Sabo after the growing army of Amarinder loyalists threw its weight behind the “maharaja” and left Bajwa to fend for his men. The higher victory margin of SAD candidate Jeet Mohinder Sidhu in Talwandi Sabo only makes it worse.

While the verdict will only embolden the Amarinder camp to up its offensive against Bajwa, the latter by pulling off the campaign in the bastion of the ruling Badals has something to show to the party high command, that he stood his ground where no one else did.
 
AAP a fluke?
Punjab was the only face-saver for the AAP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Its declining graph nationally and infighting in Punjab has been its undoing. The shock verdict had its leader HS Phoolka blaming the opponents’ using “money and muscle power”. “We respect the people’s verdict but our fight to clean Punjab politics will continue,” he said.

Party’s central observer for Punjab, Jarnail Singh, blamed it on the lack of organisational structure. “We are going to build it and launch agitations across Punjab soon. Our goal is the 2017 state elections. The verdict is not against us, as we are not in the government,” he said.

SAD one up in numbers game, yet not there
By winning a Congress legislator and, later, his Talwandi Sabo seat, the SAD is one up in the numbers game in the state assembly. Its tally there is now 58, still short of the simple majority of 59 without ally BJP, which has 12 MLAs. However, the byelections have given the ruling regime a much-needed face-saver after the poor show in the parliamentary contests.

It has given Sukhbir the handle to trumpet the verdict as an endorsement of his government’s “pro-people, transparent and effective governance”. His father, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has claimed victory in both bypolls. “The SAD-BJP alliance has won the Talwandi Sabo seat with a thumping majority and increased its vote share in Patiala. It shows the Congress is on its way out of Punjab,” the CM stated.

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