Punjab: Dera factor, smaller parties key factor

The Akalis and the Cong both positioned weakly with the latter enjoying a slim edge even though Akalis are fighting against anti-incumbency factor.

Chandigarh: Though the Akali Dal and the Congress are both claiming to form the next government in Punjab this time, the key to electoral victory in the state lies in the hands of Bahujan Samaj Party and BJP on the one hand and the tilt of Dera Sacha Sauda followers on the other.

With BJP, which was faced with allegations of corruption leading to dropping of its few ministers, unlikely to repeat its star performance in the 2007 Assembly polls when it bagged 19 of the 23 seats it contested, the Akalis prospects of retaining power in Punjab can be hit, political observers feel.

The Congress is not on a comfortable wicket either as Mayawati`s BSP is set to cut into its traditional voter base, making its ride bumpy, they say.

The Akalis and the Congress both positioned weakly with the latter enjoying a slim edge even though the Akalis are fighting against anti-incumbency factor, the support of Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim-led Dera Sacha Sauda may play a crucial role
in formation of the new government as the state goes to polls tomorrow.

The Dera is likely to extend its support on candidate basis, which will mainly be from the Congress, the observers say.

The Dera wields considerable influence in the Malwa belt of the state which has 65 seats and had supported the Congress in 2007 when it lost on account of anti-incumbency factor. The state has throughout its history has never voted for the same ruling dispensation consecutively.

If the Akalis perform well, they will set a precedent in Punjab. But that is an ambitious target for the outgoing Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who has consciously projected himself as the CM candidate. His son and deputy CM Sukhbir
Singh Badal is yet to totally win over the Akali old guard and loyalists, the observers say.

It is not just the way the Dera goes for the Akalis. The newly-formed Punjab People`s Party, floated by the outgoing CM`s estranged nephew Manpreet Badal, is also threatening to erode its votes. The PPP and Left parties are contesting under
the Sanjha Morcha alliance which is expected to affect both the Akali and the Congress vote banks.

Dera Sacha Sauda, which had openly backed the state Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh in the 2007 Assembly polls, is keeping its cards close to its chest this time. In the last polls, the Congress, despite sweeping the Malwa region with Dera`s support, had lost the elections as Punjab voted for change of guard as has been the case in the past.

Even this time around, the Malwa region of Punjab spread across nine districts with 65 Assembly segments will hold the key to power. Other regions of the state have fewer seats. Doaba has 25 and Majha has 27 seats in the 117 seat Assembly.

In 2007, the Congress with the active support of Dera had bagged a majority seats in Malwa, with the Akalis securing only 19 seats and the BJP 5.

However, of the 25 seats in Doaba, the Akalis had bagged 13 and the BJP 7 in 2007, leaving only 7 to the Congress. In Majha (27 seats), the Akalis managed 17 and the BJP 7, leaving only 3 to the Congress.

The SAD had won a total of 49 seats, BJP 19, Congress 44 and remaining five seats were won by Independents.

Earlier, in the 2002 polls, the Congress had come to power winning 62 seats. SAD had won 41 seats and its alliance partner BJP three, while the CPI had got two seats and Independents nine.

Of the major contestants, the SAD had got a vote share of 37.09 percent in 2007 as against 31.08 percent in 2002. Its alliance partner BJP got a vote share of 8.28 percent in 2007 against 5.67 percent in 2002.

The Congress had bagged a vote share of 40.90 percent in 2007 as compared with 35.81 percent in 2002. The BSP had also managed to get a total vote share of 4.13 percent in 2007, against 5.69 percent in 2002.

This time the BSP is contesting in a big way and has fielded its candidates in all the 117 Assembly seats, while the PPP has fielded candidates in 92 seats and hardliner
Simranjit Singh Mann-led SAD (Amritsar) has fielded as many as 57 candidates.

The Monday polls will determine which way the tide sways for as many as 1,078 candidates including 93 women in the fray. A total of 1.77 crore voters are eligible to exercise their franchise.

The Election Commission`s strict monitoring of fund flows has also cast its shadow on Punjab polls, with the campaigning remaining low key and not picking up the frenetic levels seen in the previous years. This has resulted in no definitive wave
in favour of any political party.

The January 30 polls will also decide the future of many a political heir of state leaders who are keen to pass on the legacy and maintain the traditional clout of Punjab`s political dynasties.

Hanging in the balance is the fate of heirs of former chief ministers Beant Singh and Harcharan Singh Brar; of former SGPC chief and Akali stalwart Gurcharan Singh Tohra; and of political bigwigs like former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh and the outgoing CM Parkash Singh Badal.