PUNJAB: A CLIFFHANGER ELECTION
A fierce triangular contest in the Malwa region makes it hard to call the Punjab elections
Aday after polling for 117 assembly constituencies in Punjab, the three rivals in Lambi, the most keenly-watched contest of these elections, settled back into less frenzied routines—Parkash Singh Badal, the incumbent chief minister, flew home to Chandigarh in the state helicopter to tackle a mild fever; Aam Aadmi Party nominee Jarnail Singh headed back ‘home’ to Delhi and Capt. Amarinder Singh of the Congress returned to tend to his strawberry plants in Chandigarh. But 35 days to counting of votes on March 11 is surely causing them all great anxiety.
Like every election since the 1966 Reorganisation of Punjab, the numerically dominant Malwa region with 69 of Punjab’s 117 constituencies, is key. Forty-six of the 50 constituencies that recorded voter turnouts of 78 per cent and more are in Malwa; 36 of these saw more than 80 per cent voters showing up, with Sardulgarh recording the highest—88 per cent.
The fierce triangular contests indicated across Malwa, with all three conten-
ders—Congress, AAP and the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP Alliance—claiming the edge, have made these polls impossible to call. Arvind Kejriwal and AAP are taking the swelling turnout in Malwa as a ‘done deal’ for the party. However, as one writer put it: “The wave AAP claimed failed to cross the Sutlej into the Majha or Doaba.” Political analysts say the low turnouts and lower-than-2012 voting in several Majha constituencies, including Majitha, where Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal’s brother-in-law Bikram Majithia was in the fray, suggests traditional bipolar contests. “To me this would indicate the contest remained between the old rivals; AAP failed to get the traction it hoped for in Majha or Doaba,” says Pramod Kumar, a Chandigarh-based political scientist who’s been most accurate about past polls in Punjab.
Even in Malwa, where AAP was most visible, many believe two events may have
THE WAVES AAP MADE IN MALWA FAILED TO MOVE MAJHA AND DOABA, SAY SOME ANALYSTS
complicated things—the bomb attack targeting a Congress roadshow on January 31 which turned the spotlight on Kejriwal’s association with pro-Khalistan elements; and Dera Sacha Sauda’s proclamation of support to SAD-BJP on February 1. AAP had hoped the Dera’s predominantly lowercaste adherents would swing its way.
Kumar believes Malwa will see a threeway split of its 69 seats. A day after polling, Amarinder hosted a lunch for poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC) team “to compliment them for a job well done”. Although it may be premature to celebrate, the former CM believes the Congress will commence its comeback (nationally) with a win in Punjab. And given the numbers from IPAC’s ‘ground report’ dutifully tweeted by ex-Union sports minister Ajay Maken on February 5, Amarinder may have reason enough for a ‘high-five’.
WINNING SMILE Captain Amarinder Singh casts his vote in Patiala