April 20, 2014

PUNJAB & LOK SABHA 2014


THE BATTLE FOR PUNJAB


One of the states that will see a close contest between the two major coalitions in the country is the Land of Five Rivers - Punjab. If you see the electoral history in the last few years you will be surprised by the way, people here have voted. In 2009, the projection of Manmohan Singh as the party's PM candidate worked here as the INC grabbed an astounding 8 of the 13 seats. Three years down the line though as Punjab went to the state polls (Link), the tables were turned upside down (Link). The Akali-BJP combine created history as it beat anti-incumbency to return back to power in spite of doing badly in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Ahead of the upcoming General Elections, there are mixed signals coming out of the state. While there is support for Modi, the anti-incumbency against state regime too is pretty strong. That is precisely the reason that I believe this state is going to see a keenly fought battle.

ISSUES

(1) A tale of two anti-incumbencies: The people of Punjab have to choose between two evils in this elections, having seen the 'failures' of both, the UPA and the NDA governments in their successive terms at the Centre and the state respectively. The one thing that the Congress led coalition regime in New Delhi will be known for are the myriad scams that have come to light in the last three years, each of it running into hundreds of crores of rupees. Besides, the Singh government's 'mis-handling' of the economy has dented the 'India Growth Story'. Moreover, price-rise and high inflation have taken their toll on the common man.

Unfortunately for the NDA, simmering anti-incumbency against its state regime is likely to dent its prospects in 2014. In fact, some analysts believe that this is precisely the reason that Punjab may go in favor of the UPA this time around. No substantial development has happened under the Badals, the infrastructure continues to remain poor whereas the debt to the state exchequer has touched new heights. Another problem is the drug trade which is threatening to destroy a complete generation of Punjabi youth. Also, the Dera Saccha Sauda which has a large following in some parts of the state is likely to support the Congress too due to its differences with the Akalis.

(2) 1984 Anti-Sikh riots: This is one weapon in their arsenal that the SAD-BJP will use to counter the charge of the Congress against its state government. Ever since the elevation of Narendra Modi to the post of BJP's PM nominee, the INC had tried to rake up the issue of 'Secularism', claiming that the 2014 election are a fight to protect the plurality of the country. However, Punjab is one place where this move could possibly backfire. In an interview to Times Now Editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami, Rahul Gandhi accepted that some of his party men could have played a role in the massacre of Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Moreover, the allegations of Margaret Thatcer regime's involvement in the controversial 'Operation Bluestar' has re-ignited the whole debate and has put the grand old party on the defensive.


CONTENDERS

(1) National Democratic Alliance (NDA): Leading the NDA's charge here is the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) led by the octogenarian CM Prakash Singh Badal. One of the steady fast ally of the BJP, the regional party fared rather badly in the last Union polls. However, it did win a spectacular victory in the assembly polls where its tally grew by 10 odd seats. In fact, the party came within striking distance of crossing the half way mark on its own. However, anti-incumbency against the state government is a big factor in the elections and that is hurting the prospects of the BJP led alliance. According to the pre-poll accord with the saffron outfit, the party has put up ten candidates including Sukbir's wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal (Bathinda), incumbent - Paramjit Kaur Gulshan (Faridkot), Deepinder Singh Dhillon (Patiala) and Pawan Tinu (Jalandhar).

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is banking on the Modi wave to see it through in the three seats it is contesting in alliance with the Akalis. What should worry the BJP, apart from anti-incumbency is the fact that in 2012 the party dropped 7 seats even as the SAD's tally went northwards. Remember, in 2007 state polls, the party had won 19 out of the 23 seats it contested and helped the Badals return to power after a five year hiatus. The BJP's candidates are Leader of Opposition in the present Lok SabhaArun Jaitley (Amritsar) and actor Vinod Khanna (Gurudaspur) who had lost elections last time.

(2) Congress: While it did exceedingly well in 2009, the grand old party is fighting a tough battle to even come close to its previous tally. Nonetheless, it did score a small victory when it managed to get Akali rebel Manpreet Badal of the People's Party of Punjab (PPP) to contest as a Congress candidate. Aware of the Central regime's shortcomings, the party is concentrating on the anti-incumbency against the state government to do well. Congress heavyweights include former CM Amarinder Singh (Amritsar), former Union Minister Ambika Soni (Anandpur Sahib), incumbent MPs Vijay Inder Singla (Sangrur), Mohinder Singh Kaypee (Hoshiarpur) and in true Congress tradition also offered a ticket to Parneet Kaur - the wife of Captain from Patiala.

Others: The Aam Admi Party (AAP) too is making its maiden entry into electoral fray from here. It has given a tickets to prominent Punjabis including comedian Bhagwant Mann (Sangrur) who was earlier with the PPP, artist Jasraj Singh Longia (Bathinda), cardiologist Dr. Dharamvira Gandhi (Patiala) and eye surgeon Dr. Daljit Singh (Amritsar).

PAST PERFORMANCES

In 2009, if there was a state in which Manmohan Singh's magic worked, it was in his home state where the Congress beat the NDA 8-5. Five years ago, it was the SAD-BJP combine that had swept Punjab, finishing with a tally of 11. However, in 1999, the state stood with the INC even as the nation voted the saffron outfit to power. In 1998 and 1996 though, the Akalis were the dominant force, bagging eight seats each time.

Political Party
2009
2004
1999
1998
1996
NDA (SAD+BJP)
5 (4+1)11 (8+3)3 (2+1)11 (8+3)8 (8+0)
Congress
828-2
Others (BSP/SAD-M/CPI)
--223

MY PREDICTIONS

I expect the battle for Punjab to be a close race. The anti-incumbency against the Akali regime in the state is hitting the SAD whereas the Congress is also facing the heat for its failure to do well at the Centre.

Political PartyExpected Seats
1NDA (SAD+BJP)6-8
2Congress5-6

WATCH OUT

(1) The Battle for Amritsar: BJP's Navjot Singh Sidhu won the Amritsar parliamentary seat here in 2004 and 2009. This time around, the BJP has fielded one of its heavyweights - Arun Jaitley from here. Although he has been in politics for nearly four decades now, this is the first time that the senior leader will be fighting elections. It is believed that the INC has fielded former state CM Captain Amarinder Singh at the behest of Sonia Gandhi. This is one of the most high profile contest in the 2014 General Elections.

(2) Badal versus Badal: The city of Bhatinda is going to see another tough fight between two members of Punjab's first political family. After breaking away from the Akali Dal and forming the People's Party of Punjab in March 2011, the former Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Badal drew a blank winning no seat in the state elections held the very next year. However, this time around, he has entered the electoral fray as a Congress candidate from Bhatinda. Standing against him is Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the daughter-in-law of incumbent CM Parkash Singh Badal who had won from here in 2009 by a margin of over 1 lakh votes. This is one fight to watch out for.

Other posts in this series:
(1) Karnataka & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(2) Rajasthan & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(3) Maharashtra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(4) Goa & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(5) Kerala & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(6) Assam & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(7) Tripura & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(8) Haryana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(9) Chhattisgarh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(10) Jammu Kashmir & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(11) Madhya Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(12) Telangana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(13) Bihar & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(14) Jharkhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(15) Sikkim & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(16) Arunachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(17) Nagaland & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(18) Manipur & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(19) Meghalaya & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(20) Mizoram & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(21) Delhi & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(22) Gujarat & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(23) Himachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(24) Uttarakhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(25) Bengal & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(26) Odisha & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(27) Tamil Nadu & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(28) Andhra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(29) Uttar Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)