A FEW weeks to go for the Lok Sabha polls, the ruling Congress is confident of making a clean sweep in Punjab, buoyed by a divided Opposition and anger against the Akali Dal over Guru Granth Sahib sacrilege and subsequent police firing on protesters under its government.
Having a formidable strength of 78 in the 117-member Assembly, the Congress is eyeing all the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the main opposition but a distant number two having won just 20 seats in the Assembly elections, is battling deep fissures. Sukhpal Singh Khaira, its leader in the House, has resigned from the party as well as the Assembly to float his own outfit, the Punjabi Ekta Party (PEP). There have been other desertions, with the AAP now reduced to just 11 MLAs.
The Akali Dal is a divided house too with sitting MP Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, former MP Rattan Singh Ajnala and former minister Sewa Singh Sekhwan floating own splinter group, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Taksali).
The fissures within the AAP and Akali Dal would end up dividing their votes at least four ways in rural areas, which are their stronghold. On the other hand, the Congress, which already has a major vote share in cities, has been consolidating it without much competition from the BJP. The BJP has largely ceded space to its ally Akali Dal in Punjab, and the state did not witness any swing even during the 2014 Modi wave. The Akali Dal -BJP had together won six seats in 2014, with two going to the BJP. That was just one more than the BJP tally in 2009.
The Congress, which could have been on the backfoot over non-fulfilment of pre-poll promises, has managed to cash in on the October 2015 Guru Granth Sahib sacrilege incident and the Behbal Kalan firing that followed. “People are still very angry with the Akalis. Our government’s inquiry into the case and action against a former SSP have helped us pin the Akalis down,” said Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, a Cabinet minister and aide of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
Trying to catch up, the Akalis have already started their campaign. Party president Sukhbir Badal has covered 60 of the 117 Assembly segments and is addressing two ‘worker milni (worker meetings)’ every day.
The party plans to field its big guns in all the constituencies. “We will not take any constituency lightly, including Patiala, the constituency of CM’s wife Preneet Kaur,” said an Akali leader. Sukhbir Badal said they were not worried at all. “The Congress is absent on the ground. There is no government in Punjab today.” Corruption by Congress leaders was at its peak, he added, also accusing the party of threatening peace by encouraging hardliners.