People’s Party of Punjab leads state to witness triangular Assembly poll contest for first time.
Over 470 nominations were filed till Tuesday for the elections to the 117 assembly constituencies of Punjab, scheduled for January 30.
All the major parties have already announced candidates: the ruling combine of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the main opposition Congress, besides the Sanjha Morcha comprising the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP), the Communist Party of India and SAD(Longowal).
Prominent among those who filed nomination were chief minister Parkash Singh Badal (SAD-B), his deputy and party colleague Sukhbir Singh Badal, Pradesh Congress Committee president Amarinder Singh, Bikramjit Singh Majithia and brother-in-law of Sukhbir singh Badal (all Congress). The last day for filing of nominations is January 12. January 16 is the date of scruitiny.
In the last (2007) Assembly elections in the state, the Akali-BJP combine won 67 seats (SAD-B -- 48, BJP --19), while the Congress won 44 seats. Past elections in the upcountry state have mostly seen a direct conflict between the Congress and SAD-BJP alliance in several of the constituencies.
This time, the presence of the PPP is set to make the upcoming 14th assembly polls a triangular contest. As for the 1885-founded Congress party, Capt Singh, also a former chief minister, is touted to be the star campaigner, while the SAD (formed in 1920) is projecting chief minister Badal in its bid to woo voters. The PPP’s top leader will be Manpreet Singh Badal, an ex-SAD member and alumnus of Delhi’s St Stephen’s College and University of London (where he did law).
The estranged nephew of CM Badal is believed to have the potential to cut into the SAD’s vote’s share.
In 1995, Manpreet Badal was elected member of the legislative assembly from Gidderbaha on a from SAD(B) ticket. He again won -- in 1997, 2002 and 2007.
When patriarch Badal became chief minister in 2007 for the fourth time, Manpreet was handpicked as finance minister. Year 2010, though, saw the nephew’s expulsion from the SAD, which cited “anti-party activities” as the reason for the decision. Also in the fray is the Bahujan Samaj Party, which does not have a large voter base. The state’s total population, as per the 2011 Census, is 2.77 crore. The period of summary revision of the voter’s list saw the filing of 7.34 lakh new applications.
Of these, 7.23 were accepted. The present total electorate strength is 1.74 crore, after taking into account the newly-accepted applications, deletions and modifications. On the fiscal front, the once-affluent Punjab reeled under a debt of Rs 33,000 crore in 2007, when the Congress government exited. By 2010, the debt mounted to Rs 70,000 crore.
The revenue deficit, which stood at Rs 1,749 crore in 2006-07, also shot past Rs 4,200 crore in 2009-10. Now, as elections near, mudslinging is on between the major rival parties. While the ruling SAD-BJP vaxes eloquent about its administrative achievements, the opposition Congress alleges soaring corruption and lack of development in the state.
As for sect dynamics, the Dera Sacha Sauda followers are likely to play a pivotal role in this election.
With over four lakh followers in Punjab, it likely to tilt the electoral balance in seats like Bathinda, Sangrur, Patiala and Ferozepur.
If the Akali Dal, after all, suffered a vote-wise setback in the last assembly election, it was because the members of the 1948-founded socio-spiritual organisation -- its leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh preaches humanitarianism and selfless service -- joined the Congress.