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Change is no longer constant

The Akali Dal's victory has finally stalled the trend of anti-incumbency in Punjab, Pankaj Vohra writes.
Hindustan Times | By Pankaj Vohra
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2012 11:23 PM IST

The Punjab assembly election results may have surprised many political observers, particularly because no party has retained power in this state during the last 40 years in successive polls. This historic feat has been achieved by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP alliance at the cost of the Congress, which suffered extensively because of a strong and negative perception against its rule at the Centre. In other words, the anti-incumbency against the Centre has proved to be greater than the anti-incumbency against the state government leading to this unprecedented win.

The anti-Congress mood has also found reflection in the results of several other state assemblies that went to polls this year. The outcome has further ensured that the succession issue in the Akali Dal stands settled once and for all with Parkash Singh Badal's son Sukhbir set to gain control of the government from his father in the near future. Even though the spotlight has been on the SP's Akhilesh Yadav and other young leaders during the past month, the SAD-BJP victory has essentially been made possible due to the strategy and political astuteness of Sukhbir Badal who spearheaded the election campaign.

It was his planning that's responsible for the Akalis increasing their numbers and allowing the BJP to also hold on to some of their own. In 2007, the Akalis came to power on the strength of the BJP, which won 19 out of the 23 seats it contested. The saffron party has again performed reasonably well to keep the Congress at bay. Sukhbir has broad-based his own party and, thus, made it more inclusive. The Akalis, for instance, gave nearly a dozen tickets to Hindus, something that is unprecedented. The idea was to give an image makeover to the party by making it appear as a 'party of Punjabis' rather than 'of Sikhs' alone. This time, tickets were also given to Sikhs who trim their beards, a step which was seen as consistent with the changing times.

The election, perhaps, also marks the end of Amarinder Singh's illustrious political career in the state given that he was projected by the Congress as the chief ministerial candidate. He has, thus, rightly accepted the moral responsibility for the defeat. Many political pundits in Punjab believe that if Amarinder was not at the helm of affairs of the party, its plight would have been worse. In many ways, he kept the Akalis at bay till the very end, putting up a valiant fight despite the fact that many of his colleagues were trying to pull him down. The Congress high command had also been courting four or five chief ministerial nominees till the time Amarinder was named as the candidate, encouraging them to assert themselves in the party and state politics, leading to fierce infighting. The Congress needs to introspect on many factors such as why the party was unable to win even a single seat from Jalandhar.

Even as the details of how various political outfits fared will be known after the figures come in from the Election Commission, it is evident that Manpreet Singh Badal's People's Party of Punjab as well as the Bahujan Samaj Party helped in splitting the anti-incumbency vote, effecting the final outcome.

Finally, the Punjab verdict has reiterated the position of Parkash Singh Badal as the state's number one leader. He sho-uld be sworn in as the chief minister for the fifth time sometime later this week.

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