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As SAD talked positive,Congress only had negatives in its corner

The positive campaign run by the Shiromani Akali Dal and ally BJP on the plank of development and growth,in sharp contrast to the negative campaign against “repression” by the Congress,appears to have finally decided the results in Punjab.

The positive campaign run by the Shiromani Akali Dal and ally BJP on the plank of development and growth,in sharp contrast to the negative campaign against “repression” by the Congress,appears to have finally decided the results in Punjab. However,the narrow vote share separating the two rivals and the fact that the SAD won at least 10 seats with a margin of 1,200 votes or less indicate that the Congress ended up paying a price for not just its rebels in the fray but also the presence of Manpreet Badal’s People’s Party of Punjab and the BSP.

The ‘panthic’ SAD this time avoided any reference to religious issues and to vendetta towards the Congress,highlighting instead the steps taken for development of the state and good governance. Even traditionally volatile issues like the dispute over state capital,the SYL canal and alleged “discrimination against Punjab” were not heard,while “provocative” statements by the Congress were ignored.

The lacklustre Congress campaign instead went to town with the promise of putting an end to alleged repression against party workers and to teach Akalis a lesson when they come to power. There was rarely any mention of development programmes or new projects that the party planned for Punjab,or promise to create jobs or to take steps for growth of agriculture and industry — at best it talked of shutting down some of the projects initiated by the govenment.

The party campaigners,led by Captain Amarinder Singh,appeared bereft of ideas,giving the impression that the Congress hoped to be ushered into power on the strength of just the revolving door pattern of Punjab elections.

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In a master stroke,Akali stalwart Sukhbir Badal is believed to have propped up many of the Congress rebels,even backing them financially to stay in the fray.

Manpreet Singh Badal’s hope of providing an alternative with his PPP flopped for the simple reason that people heard him offer no alternatives. What he talked about was getting rid of the “state’s debt”,without any mention of rejuvenating the economy or of big ticket projects.

Though he later corrected his stance to say that he was not totally opposed to subsidies,Manpreet’s emphasis on “restoring Punjabi pride” by cutting its heavy loan burden didn’t go down well. His vote share of 5.17 per cent,however,seems to have hurt both the BJP and Congress.

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The BSP,which fielded candidates from all the 117 seats,received 4.30 per cent votes.

The Independents together garnered 6.76 per cent of votes and are believed to have done more damage to the Congress than to its rivals.

In fact,with just about 1.5 per cent vote share separating the Congress and SAD-BJP,the 18 per cent vote share garnered in all by the PPP,the BSP and the rebels may have sealed the Congress fate. As per the final figures,the Congress bagged 40.11 per cent of the votes against SAD’s 34.75 and BJP’s 7.13 per cent.

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Though the final tally left the Congress short of 22 seats,it was still a gain of two seats for the party over its strength of 44 seats in 2007 even as its vote share came down from 40.90 per cent.

On the development front,the sitting SAD-BJP government could cite several projects it had set rolling even if some have not fructified yet. Besides the commissioning of the Bathinda Refinery,the government initiated at least three major thermal power stations. Besides,two international airports came up under the sitting government,while the road network,infrastructure as well as the public transport system saw an improvement.

Important administrative reforms initiated by the government include bringing about 60 services under the Rights to Services Act,ensuring time-bound delivery of public services,as well as governance reforms like doing away with affidavits and other formalities for routine government applications.

If the Congress started out on the wrong foot,with open dissension among party ranks,there were major blunders in ticket distribution,with candidates changed under pressure. The party will be left pondering over the loss of some of its active and vocal leaders such as Sukhpal Singh Khera and Jassi Khangura.

The massive recovery by the BJP,on the other hand — it had lost from all but two of the 23 assembly segments in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections — is believed to be the result of a well-thought out strategy by party stalwarts like Arun Jaitley and J P Nadda.

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With nine new candidates,it won 12 seats,and can take credit for once again helping its partner to power.

First published on: 07-03-2012 at 03:44:06 am
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