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Akalis to be the biggest loser in Punjab
Congress under Captain may come back
By B K Chum
Some elections acquire unusual significance. February 4 Punjab Assembly election was one of them for a number of reasons. Its outcome will decide the political future of the 90-year-old five-time chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, as his age factor may act against his contesting 2022 poll.

The Punjab Congress chief Capt. Amarinder Singh has also declared that February 4 election was his political career's last election. (Badal's legislative career had begun in 1957 when he was elected to the Punjab Assembly on a Congress ticket after the Akali Dal renounced politics and Akali leaders joined the Congress.)

Whatever its outcome, the 2017 poll has the potential of giving a new turn to the state politics which will also indicate the mood of the people of the border state towards the Modi government's nearly three years performance, particularly the PM's demonetisation decision which has disrupted the economy and rendered lakhs of people unemployed.

An important aspect of 2017 polls outcome will be that though it may not lead to parting of ways between the Akali Dal and BJP, it is bound to cast its shadow on their future relationship of what the two allies have been describing as life-long. It will also have its implication for 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

In the above backdrop, the question arises who will form the next government in Punjab: Congress, Akali-BJP alliance or the AAP? Before attempting an answer to the question it is imperative to briefly recall 2012's pre-poll and post-poll developments. The situation also necessitates an analysis of the factors that have played an important role in influencing the February 4 polls as its outcome will also indicate the direction the political wind may blow.

Comparisons are odious but often become unavoidable. The observation is in the context of the factors which were mainly responsible for turning the projected Congress victory into defeat in the 2012 Assembly elections helping the Akali-BJP alliance secure its second successive win and those which existed in 2017 and will play a crucial role in deciding the outcome of the February 4 poll. .

The major factors which had initially projected Congress victory in 2012 were: strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the Badal-led Akali-BJP government, its failure to fulfill promises, mis-governance, deteriorated law and order and authoritarian style of Sukhbir Badal's functioning. The Akali leadership, which exhibited signs of nervousness, had also announced huge poll-eve sops in order to lure voters.

On the other hand, the Congress looked sure to return to power. Even many senior bureaucrats had started paying their obeisance at Capt. Amarinder Singh's Motibag Palace at Patiala. These developments made Capt. Amarinder Singh over-confident and complacent.

But the widely perceived Congress victory turned out to be defeat when the results were announced. The main reasons responsible for the defeat included the wrong distribution of party tickets, presence of rebels, failure to present a united face in the polls, Amarinder Singh's famed inaccessibility and his royal ways of functioning which had alienated not only people but also party leaders and cadres.

The support of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda, which has a huge following in the Malwa region, and adoption of Akalis' panthic agenda by Amarinder Singh, had helped the Congress make a deep dent in the Akali Dal's traditional Malwa stronghold. The gain was, however, neutralised by the alienation of Hindus, the party's main support base who massively voted for BJP helping it win its largest ever number of seats in Punjab.

The factors which mainly contributed to the Akali-BJP's secure a majority and retain power included Sukhbir Badal's strategy of booth-level mobilisation of party cadres and engineering rebellion among many aspirants of Congress ticket who could not get party's nomination to contest the polls.

The political situation since 2012 has undergone a radical change. The anti-incumbency sentiment against the ruling coalition in 2017 has been stronger than what it was in 2012. There has been deep erosion in Akali Dal's rural base due to many factors which included incidents of desecration of the Sikhs holy book, revolts and desertions from the party, demonstrations and protests against the government's failure on different public-related issues. What apparently also unnerved the top ruling leadership is the inroad AAP has made in the party's Malwa stronghold.

Predicting polls outcome is hazardous. If the above scenario turns out to be a reality one can risk predicting that the February 4 triangular contest is going to cost the Akali Dal dearly making it mainly a fight between the Congress and the AAP.

—(IPA Service)

News Updated at : Tuesday, February 14, 2017
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