Will it be a close finish in Punjab?

An uneasy calm prevails among the major political parties & their candidates as who will get the popular mandate in 2012 Assembly polls in Punjab.

Ritesh K Srivastava

Even as the countdown begins, an uneasy calm prevails among the major political parties, their candidates and the voters as who will get the popular mandate in 2012 Assembly elections in Punjab.

The polling for electing members of the 14th Vidhan Sabha was hugely successful. With a record 77 % of 1.76 crore electorates casting their votes for the 117 Assembly seats of Punjab, both the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP alliance and the Congress are keeping their fingers crossed over the formation of the next government in the state.

However, as per the latest trends available, it is becoming clear that the outcome of Assembly elections will be a photo-finish between various contesting candidates and political parties, and the announcement of results on March 6 could throw up big surprises.

In case of Punjab’s multi-cornered contest, it is difficult, as of now, to predict who will be the winner, but if poll analysts are to be believed, then the Congress party led by former chief minister Amrinder Singh, appears to have a slight advantage over the ruling SAD-BJP alliance.

Undeterred by the poll predictions and trends, all political parties have put up a brave face and exuded confidence that they will get the popular mandate to rule. Though anti-incumbency has always played a big role in Punjab elections, this time, several other factors are also likely to impact the results.

Among them is the Election Commission’s revision of the electoral roles till the very end, omitting all the bogus or dead votes. This in practical terms means that the poll percentage is actually the true representation of the people who exercised their right of franchise.

Further, the heightened vigil by the poll panel curtailed the use of unfair means like distribution of liquor and money to influence the voters. This is also likely to impact the poll outcome as it largely benefitted parties like the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) and the Bahujan Samajai Party (BSP) that did not use money or muscle power to seek votes.

The poll body’s strict monitoring of flow of funds also cast its shadow on Punjab polls, restricting the campaigning from touching the frenetic levels as witnessed in previous years.

The PPP is believed to have performed exceptionally well in certain segments of the state, and if this is true, then a swing of even a few hundred votes in a multi-cornered contest can alter results.

Contrary to popular perception that the BJP will suffer heavily due to allegations of corruption levelled against its leaders, the right-wing party is expected to do much better this time. Before going to the polls, the saffron party managed to end dissent among its senior leaders regarding ticket distribution and resolved other issues that had led to internal conflicts and bickering.

Barring the case of its senior leader and MLA Jagdish Sawhney, who joined the Congress after his Batala constituency seat was given to the SAD post-delimitation, BJP leadership is hopeful of touching a double digit figure or at least come close to that.

However, Sawhney’s desertion is likely to fetch Congress BJP’s traditional Batala constituency seat where Ashwani Sikriis are said to have taken a clear lead over his SAD opponent. Interestingly, Sikrihad lost the 2007 Assembly elections by a mere 84 votes to Sawhney.

On the other side, the SAD central leadership is confident that it would win somewhere between 45 to 52 seats this time and the combined results of its alliance with the BJP will enable it to secure a second term.

The SAD leaders also believe that March 6 election results will shatter the hopes for many Congress heavyweights. However, this is contrary to the Congress` own assessment of winning close to 60 seats.

In case the Congress party manages to cross the magic figure of 59, it will be able to form the government on its own but if it fails to do so then it will have to win support of Independents of the PPP to bail it out.

Congress hopes that the incumbency factors combined with local graft and nepotism would help it trounce the Akali-BJP combine in Punjab and elsewhere. But BJP has sought to dodge the barbs by dragging scams dogging the UPA at the Centre into the poll discourse. BJP hopes a negative mood against the Congress as indicated by opinion polls will help its cause.

Whatever poll pundits say, Punjab`s record voter turnout has given rise to speculation about a ‘wave’. The trend in voting can also mean that both the Congress and the Akali-BJP combine have mobilized their bases well. Clearly, the fate of many political heavyweights, who are keen to pass on their legacy to their heirs so that traditional clout of Punjab`s political dynasties is maintained in future, will remain shrouded in suspense till March 6 when votes will be counted.

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