A fierce tri­an­gu­lar con­test in the Malwa re­gion makes it hard to call the Pun­jab elec­tions

India Today - - INSIDE - By Asit Jolly

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


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

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