State elections in Punjab have always been a two-way contest. Last two Assembly elections it was between Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance and the Congress, but this time with Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party deciding to jump into the poll fray, it would be interesting to see how the new entrant performs.
It may be noted that AAP won only four Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 General Elections, all from Punjab. The AAP which has stitched an alliance with Lok Insaf Party, declared its list of candidates on all 117 seats quite early, giving a clear signal that it means serious business in throwing a big challenge to the Badals and Captain Amrinder Singh.
Though the AAP has not declared its chief ministerial candidate, HS Phoolka and Sucha Singh have emerged as top contenders if the electorate choses the new entrant over SAD- BJP and Congress.
In order to woo the Punjab electorate, AAP has released a populist manifesto, promising laptop for all government school students, waiver on residential property tax, setting up of an NRI board, 33 percent reservation for woman in government jobs and giving the state a Dalit Deputy Chief Minister if it comes to power.
A special manifesto has also been released for differently-abled persons and has assured hike in monthly pension to Rs 2,500.
Other than the above-mentioned promises, the AAP has also announced that Amritsar and Anandpur Sahib will be declared as holy cities.
The new entrant has also promised to launch a health insurance scheme under which every resident of state would be eligible for cashless treatment of up to Rs 5 lakhs in private hospitals.
Besides having a 'Pind Clinic' in every village, the AAP has said it would have mohalla clinics on the pattern of Delhi. Another populist poll promise of AAP is that it will bring down the power tariff for industry to under Rs 5 per unit.
The AAP has promised that for pension purposes, the level of disability will be reduced from 50 to 40 percent and bed-ridden patients will be provided a kit, that will include a wheel chair.
Each physically challenged bed-ridden person will be provided a 'caretaker' allowance of Rs 5,000 per month. The backlog of jobs for handicapped persons would be cleared within a year and one lakh such people would be skilled and provided livelihood on priority during the next five-years.
Kejriwal has also promised, if his party is voted to power, it would eliminate the drugs menace in the state within 15 days of forming the government.
In an attempt to woo the men from armed forces, the AAP has assured that ex-servicemen will get 13 percent reservation in jobs and gallantry award winners, who are waiting for their award of land or money in lieu of land, would be compensated immediately.
Besides, hitting the incumbent state government over increasing drug menace, the AAP has been constantly raising the issue of unemployment, farmer suicides and demonetisation to attract the voters.
However, AAP was hit with allegations of sale and purchase of party tickets. Not only this, SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has claimed that AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal was "soliciting and getting funds from front organisations of militants."
In February 2016, AAP campaign posters showing Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale sparked controversies.
Punjab will elect a new 117-seat assembly on February 4 and on March 11 it would be clear, whether the northern state opts for the third alternate or chooses between the two tested fronts.