News analysis: Bypolls to 4 Punjab seats no cakewalk for ruling CongressUpdated: Sep 22, 2019 00:01 IST
Capt Amarinder Singh led the Congress back to power in 2017 with a thumping triumph after a gap of 10 years. The party was short of a two-thirds majority in the 117-strong assembly by one seat which it made up by romping home in the Shahkot byelection last year.
The bypolls to four seats of Phagwara, Jalalabad, Dakha and Mukerian announced by the Election Commission for October 21 have now presented the Congress with a chance to further consolidate its political hold in the state assembly. It has had an upper hand in all the other political slugfests, including the Lok Sabha, panchayat and municipal elections, also in the past two-and-a-half years.
Amarinder has been prompt in expressing confidence of winning all four seats, but the upcoming byelections are going to be anything but a cakewalk for his party. The reason: The rival parties are not going to end up as mere pushovers this time. Three of these constituencies – Jalalabad, Phagwara, and Dakha – were won by the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) alliance and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), in that order, in the 2017 assembly elections.
Phagwara and Jalalabad fell vacant as sitting MLAs Som Parkash and Sukhbir Singh Badal, respectively, got elected to the Lok Sabha whereas the byelection in Dakha has been necessitated by the resignation of AAP’s HS Phookla who has taken a break from electoral politics. The fourth seat, Mukerian, which was held by the Congress, is going to the polls because of the death of its sitting legislator Rajnish Kumar Babbi.
What does not augur well for the Congress is that the opposition parties had taken the lead in all these four assembly segments during the parliamentary elections four months ago in which the ruling party won eight of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the state. If the Akalis led in Jalalabad by a handsome margin, the BJP came out on top in Mukerian and Phagwara, taking 60% of the votes polled in the first one. In Dakha, Lok Insaaf Party’s Simarjeet Singh Bains, sitting MLA from Atam Nagar, was ahead of his rivals even though he lost the Ludhiana Lok Sabha seat.
RIVALS IN DISARRAY
The electoral history of these segments, except Mukerian, also does not favour the Congress. It has tasted victory only one time in each of the remaining three assembly seats in the last five elections. The Congress is counting on the disarray in the AAP, the principal opposition party in Punjab assembly, and the SAD. Both have been plagued by internal bickering that led to the exit of several senior leaders in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.
Rocked by frequent upheavals due to competing ambitions of its leaders, the AAP has driven itself into a hole. It got just 2% of the votes polled in these constituencies, including Dakha, the seat it won in 2017, during the recent parliamentary elections. The SAD, too, has been passing through a difficult phase due to cracks in its Panthic support base over the mishandling of the 2015 Bargari sacrilege which continues to haunt it.
Though the Congress also has its own set of disgruntled leaders, another factor that may work in its favour is the leverage it has as the party in power that pulls out all the stops for victory. Coupled with this is the proclivity of a section of floating voters to go with those in the government. The byelctions will test the Amarinder government’s popularity and its grip on power nonetheless.
First Published: Sep 22, 2019 00:01 IST