What began in Punjab in 2014 has reached its logical conclusion three years later. Back then, voters were eager to seek revenge from the Badals. In March 2017, they have served the dish cold with a chilling sense of retribution.Warning signs for the ruling Akali-BJP alliance in Punjab had first surfaced in the 2014 elections with two distinct results. The first was the humiliating defeat of finance minister Arun Jaitley in the Akali bastion of Amritsar at the hands of Congress leader Captain Amarinder Singh. The second was the phenomenal rise of AAP in the state's Malwa region.
Both these results indicated two things: One, voters were eager to teach the Badals a lesson. This was clear because they rejected Jaitley whom the Akalis had invited to contest from Punjab with the promise of a thumping win, thus turning Amritsar into a prestige issue. Two, Punjabis were willing to trust both Captain and Arvind Kejriwal to rid them of the Badals. The exit poll results in Punjab suggest that the narrative of 2014 has reached its logical conclusion. In 2017, the Badals have likely been destroyed and Captain and Kejriwal have become the joint beneficiaries of the widespread revulsion against the ruling party.
Exit poll results indicate that Punjab is headed for a hung Assembly. This is quite likely because both the Congress and the AAP seem to have done well in their areas of influence and the Akali-Sad combine has won just the basic minimum seats required to deprive both of the majority in the 117-seat legislature. If the AAP is winning in excess of 55 seats — the average of all exit poll figures—it is primarily because of its strong performance in the state's Malwa region— the area south of the Sutlej. In all likelihood, it is winning almost a two-third seats in the region out of the 69 in offer. And it is picking up a few more— around a dozen— in Doaba and Majha.
Similarly, if the Congress is winning around 55 seats — again the average of all exit poll results — it is mainly because it is sweeping the 48 seats in Majha and Doaba and picking up a few more in Malwa, especially in areas adjoining Rajasthan. Caught between the two parties advancing on Chandigarh from opposite ends, the Akali-BJP alliance is being squeezed out. The extent of its destruction could be assessed from reports from Jalalabad where the face of the party, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, is headed for a humiliating loss to AAP's Bhagwant Mann.
Ironically, the Congress and the AAP could both fall short of majority because of a common factor. The Congress appears to be doing well because in Captain it has a credible name for the CM's job but it could be falling short because of the lack of trust and respect for its central leadership. In contrast, the AAP appears to be doing well because of the faith people have in Kejriwal but could be falling short of a clear verdict because of the absence of a credible candidate for the top job.
The results could have been different from what is predicted by exit polls if the AAP had managed to snare Navjot Singh Sidhu. His popularity and influence in Amritsar could have given the AAP the final push and a few more seats in a tough contest. For AAP, Sidhu could have turned out to be the pinch-hitter whose big hit could have added crucial numbers to the score card. On 11 March, we would know if the AAP would live to regret the decision.
If the AAP wins, it would be interesting to watch who becomes the CM. Though Bhagwant Mann and HS Phoolka are talked about as claimants, Kejriwal himself may not be averse to shifting from Delhi and leading the government in Punjab. The AAP campaign was centred around the slogan, 'Punjab tere naal-naal, Kejriwal' and voters did not seem averse to the idea of a Harayanvi chief minister of Delhi becoming their next leader. Many believe that if AAP gets the mandate, Kejriwal may go for it.
If the Congress wins, Captain would be the next CM of Punjab. In the run-up to the polls, he had promised to become the lion that would devour the cat and its —chief minister Prakash Singh Badal and his clan that rules Punjab. If the Congress gets past the majority mark, Captain may get to execute what he promised. But, if he falls short by a few seats, the lion and the balungda may be forced to co-exist. But, that is a different story, meant to be told after the last vote is counted.
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Updated Date: Mar 10, 2017 15:44:59 IST