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HindustanTimes Tue,29 Jul 2014

Wake-up call for Akali Dal: classic case of overconfidence

Pawan Sharma, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, May 17, 2014
First Published: 08:03 IST(17/5/2014) | Last Updated: 13:28 IST(17/5/2014)

The verdict given by Punjab's voters is a wake-up call for deputy chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) head Sukhbir Singh Badal and a brutal blow to the prestige of ageing chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.

Bluntly put, it is a referendum on the SAD leadership as well as the "arrogant" cadres identified with all the ills afflicting this border state - from the drug menace to the sand mafia.

So, despite having won four seats — Bathinda, Ferozepur, Anandpur Sahib and Khadoor Sahib — on its own and two gained by ally BJP, it will take more than the customary huddle for the SAD to put things back on track.

Soon after the verdict, the party convened a meeting of its core committee which will be held at Chandigarh on Saturday evening at the residence of the chief minister.

The party has been mauled such that its victory in Badal family bastion Bathinda by a relatively thin margin of 19,939 has a tinge of humiliation.

The fact that underlined the humiliation of Punjab's first political family was sitting MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal struggling against the Congress' Manpreet Singh Badal in Bathinda, where anything less than a big victory was seen as a disaster.

The Bathinda verdict in particular is a clear indication of palpable anti-incumbency and anger of the electorate against the ruling family.

This humiliation was further capped by the defeat of BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley in Amritsar where the voters rewrote the political rule book and caught the overconfident SAD-BJP napping.

How misplaced Sukhbir's confidence was — claiming at least 10 seats — can be gauged from the fact that Akali Dal's vote share has declined drastically.

The party perceived to have an iron grip over the rural electorate got 26.4% votes, even as its vote share in 2012 assembly poll was 34.75% and in 2009 Lok Sabha it was 33.85%.

The Congress vote share in this election tumbled to 33% from 45.23% in 2009 and 40.11% in 2012 assembly polls, while AAP made the difference, getting 24.5%.

This is a clear pointer towards this new phenomenon cutting into the votes of both the Akali Dal and the Congress.

The Akalis' saving grace is that in past also the party in power has not done well; in 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the party had won four seats.

Now, the main issue before the Akali Dal is to see what went wrong and how to take corrective measures.

Sukhbir, who loves to talk big, will have to examine why his mega schemes did not create a positive sentiment among the electorate and why his banking on the atta-daal and claims of good governance did not work.

According to analysts, the complacency and smugness of the Akali Dal leadership and his tendency of taking the voters for granted have been the reasons behind the present plight of the party even as in the neighbouring states the BJP swept the polls.

The SAD facing this fate within two years of its second innings clearly points out that no section of the society is happy with its style of governance.

What was the proverbial last nail on the coffin of the Akali Dal was the over-whelming public anger against the 'halqa (constituency) incharge' – a new concept of the Akalis — against which people responded with vengeance.

The voters have taught a lesson to Sukhbir, who is usually busy pontificating about poll management.

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