The 2017 Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections are historic in a sense, because for the first time, a viable “third front” has contested in the state elections. Here is an analysis of the possible election outcomes by Hindustan Times senior resident editor Ramesh Vinayak.
Who will be the next CM of Punjab?
That depends on which party actually manages to gain a majority of the votes. But considering the mood of the voters in the lead up to the Vidhan Sabha elections on Feb 4 and judging by what we saw and heard on voting day, it is clear that the momentum is with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). We’ve seen that a large section of the Punjabi population is leaning towards AAP, especially the younger generation, who seem to have voted for them in huge numbers.
HS Phoolka, AAP’s best bet
AAP has had the greatest impact in the Malwa region of Punjab – the region which has 69 of the 117 Punjab assembly seats. So if AAP manages to gain a simple majority by winning 59 seats overall, then I feel the prime candidate for chief ministership would be Sardar HS Phoolka. There are many reasons why I believe that might be the case. First of all, Mr Phoolka is a widely respected and has a profound aura. No one has anything to say against him. He is also a well recognised ‘Panthic’ face. And the biggest reason is his 32-year long crusade for justice for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh violence, which is an inseparable part of his persona. So I feel if AAP earns a majority of votes, Harvinder Singh Phoolka would be their best bet to become chief minister.
Only a miracle can save the Badals
As for the Shiromani Akali Dal, it would take an absolute miracle for the party to be saved from imminent defeat. The anti-incumbency wave against the SAD is so strong that the battle at the hustings is only between AAP and Congress. The anger against SAD has been extremely visible, and I don’t believe the Akali –BJP coalition can win anywhere near enough seats to be able to form the next government. I rule that possibility out. The panthic voters, especially from rural areas have turned their backs on SAD this time and seem to have voted for AAP en masse.
A two-way contest between Congress and AAP
The Congress party will definitely give AAP a tough competition in these elections. As I said earlier, the popularity of AAP is limited to the Malwa area which has 69 assembly seats. Apart from that, there is Doaba, which has 23 seats and there is Majha, where 25 seats are being contested. Just like AAP will prove to be dominant in Malwa, the Congress will be a big winner in Doaba and Majha.
Malwa voters hold the key
So Malwa holds the key to these elections. If Congress and SAD are completely swept up by the AAP broom, then I don’t believe even the Congress can be in a position to win a simple majority to form government – purely because of the number of seats at stake in Malwa.
I should also point out that there are certain areas within Malwa as well, like Ferozepur and other districts of south-west Punjab, where the grip of the AAP is much weaker than in central Malwa or northern Malwa. So all in all, it is widely expected that Aam Admi Party will emerge as a very powerful force in these elections. But will it be able to form the government, is the million dollar question and is very hard to answer.
The Sidhu factor
As for Navjot Singh Sidhu joining the Congress party just before the Punjab elections, I don’t believe that it would result in any substantial gains to the Congress party. It is true that his decision enthused the Congress party workers in the Amritsar region, but the fact is that Sidhu hardly had ten days to campaign for the party, because he joined so close to the elections. It is clear as daylight that Capt Amarinder Singh played a pivotal role in the Congress party’s election campaign, and he is most definitely the party’s CM candidate. I believe there is no “Sidhu factor”, and he will have a negligible effect on the outcome of Punjab elections.
A hung Assembly
Another very credible scenario about the election outcome is that no single party wins enough seats to claim a majority in the Punjab assembly. That would be a very interesting situation because I’m certain that the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal will never support each other in forming a coalition government. Even if the Congress falls a few short of the required 59 seats to attain majority, SAD will never lend it support to come into power. The vice versa is also true, that Congress will never support SAD.
Equally, I’m certain that the Akalis will not support AAP to form the next Punjab government. That leaves Congress and AAP in the fray – we have already seen what happened in Delhi elections back in 2014. At that time, Congress MLA’s had supported AAP “from outside” and helped it come into power for the first time ever. Although it is hard to predict what will happen in Punjab in 2017, but I highly doubt if these parties will join to form a coalition government.
President’s rule- a possibility
The way things are panning out, in case none of the parties are able to win a clear majority, the most likely scenario will be President’s rule in Punjab. In that case, Vidhan Sabha elections will have to be held again in Punjab after six months to a year. Yes, it is quite possible if Congress wins 50 odd seats only, then it will try to snare a break away a faction from AAP (under anti-defection law, one-third of the elected MLA’s must join the other party at the same time for this to happen). But if this politics of numbers fails, then a hung assembly in Punjab will result in the imposition of President’s rule.
PLEASE NOTE: The article was first published by sbs.com.au and the above is a transcription of an interview with Mr Ramesh Vinayak, who has presented his personal opinion.