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Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Punjab, Himachal voting today, high stakes battle for BJP, Congress

Punjab, Himachal vote today, 59 seats up for grabs in 7 states and one UT; big mid-term test for Amarinder govt, stakes equally high for SAD-BJP alliance.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 19, 2019 12:00 IST
Navneet Sharma
Navneet Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
BJP,Congress,Lok Sabha Elections
People standing in a queue to cast their vote at a polling booth in Jalandhar, Punjab, during the seventh and final phase of Lok Sabha elections, on May 19, 2019. (Pradeep Pandit / HT Photo)

This Lok Sabha election will be a mid-term test of popularity for the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in the border state of Punjab that goes to the polls today.

The Congress, which stormed to power with a two-thirds majority in the 2017 assembly polls after 10 years, is facing the SAD-BJP combine, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Punjab Democratic Alliance, a coalition of small parties, in the seventh and the last phase of polling for 13 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.

In the neighbouring Himachal, a high-stakes battle will see the Congress and the BJP taking each other head-on in all four Lok Sabha constituencies.

In all, polling will be held in 59 constituencies across the country. These include 13 in Uttar Pradesh, nine in West Bengal, eight each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, three in Jharkhand and the lone seat in Chandigarh.

Lok Sabha Elections 2019, Phase 7: Follow Live Updates here

In Punjab, the Congress, gung-ho about its electoral prospects following massive victories in two bypolls, municipal and panchayats elections in the past two years, is looking to continue its winning streak and had launched ‘Mission 13’ with fanfare to make a “clean sweep” as against three seats in the 2014 parliamentary polls. However, the ruling party has been weighed down by internal bickering and anti-incumbency due to unkept poll promises, prompting Amarinder Singh to issue a “perform-or-perish” warning to his ministers and legislators.

The animus between Amarinder and his local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who made thinly veiled digs at each other last week, has brought out lack of cohesion in the party.

The stakes are equally, if not more, high for the SAD-BJP coalition and the AAP.

They have also grappled with internal squabbles, leading to splits and proliferation of splinter factions in the fray. The SAD-BJP alliance had won six seats in the 2014 parliamentary elections before getting pushed to the number three position in the 2017 assembly polls with its worst-ever tally. The SAD, particularly the Badals, has been on the back foot over the incident of the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib and subsequent police firing on protesters in 2015. The Congress has tried to tap into anger among the Sikhs on this issue, but the Akalis have taken the Congress head-on by raking up the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and role of Sajjan Kumar and other leaders.

The AAP, which won four seats on debut in 2014 and then came second in the assembly polls to become the third force in the state’s long-standing bipolar politics, is in disarray. Though the party has fielded its candidates in all the 13 seats, its poll battle is primarily limited to Sangrur and Faridkot where sitting MPs Bhagwant Mann and Sadhu Singh are in the fray. In most other segments, its candidates could not match the campaign of their rivals. Led by rebel AAP leader Sukhpal Khaira, the PDA comprising the Bahujan Samaj Party, Punjab Ekta Party and the Communist Party of India among others, is also in the fray.

The election narrative has been dominated by local issues such as sacrilege incidents, unfulfilled poll promises, unemployment and farmer suicides with the BJP’s nationalism pitch not finding an echo in rural areas.

Dr Pramod Kumar, director, Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), said there was a close fight between the Congress and the SAD-BJP combine with the former facing anti-incumbency of two years in power. “The Akalis are on the path of resurgence from their low of the 2017 state polls. Among the factors, Modi and his nationalism pitch are likely to work with urban Hindus and play out in favour of the alliance this time. Sacrilege issue could help the Congress in pockets of Malwa region,” he said.

First Published: May 19, 2019 03:17 IST

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