Voting ends for Punjab’s first ever 3-cornered fight

Rajat Kain

Rahul-Gandhi-Punjab-polls

Muktsar: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi during an election rally in Punjab, Feb 2, 2017. Photo – PTI

Polling has ended in what will be a fascinating three-cornered fight, for the first time in Punjab’s political history. Polling began early today for the 117-member legislative assembly. While the Congress is fighting a high-stake battle to mark its return to power in the state after 10 years of Akali-BJP rule, the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is eyeing for a big inroad in country’s political map wresting power in a second state after Delhi.

Arvind Kejriwal’s outfit had thrown a major surprise in Punjab after winning four seats in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Since then, the party has grown its tentacles across the state.

FILE: Attari: Aam Aadmi Party convener & Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during election campaigning for the upcoming Punjab Assembly elections,in Border villages in Attari on Sunday.PTI Photo

FILE: Attari: Aam Aadmi Party convener & Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during election campaigning for the upcoming Punjab Assembly elections,in Border villages in Attari on Sunday.PTI Photo

Facing a double anti-incumbency and flurry of charges by the opponents ranging from drug menace to employment to agrarian crisis, the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine has a steep uphill climb.

But it is the high stake election for the Congress party, fighting perhaps the toughest political battle to stay relevant in national politics. A victory in Punjab will surely go a long way in its revival.

1145 candidates are in the fray on 117 seats. Congress is going alone on 117 seats, ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and its ally BJP is contesting on 94 and 23 seats respectively. New entrant AAP has fielded candidates on 110 seats and its ally Lok Insaaf Party is fighting on 7.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal waves at crowd at the Vijay Sankalp Yatra rally for Punjab Assembly elections in Jalandhar on Friday.

FILE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal waves during an election rally in Punjab. Photo – PTI

Among the battles to watch out are:

Lambi: Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal is facing a direct challenge from Congress CM candidate Capt Amarinder Singh. Meanwhile, AAP has fielded sitting MLA from Delhi Jarnail Singh.

Patiala: Capt Amarinder Singh’s home turf. Akali-BJP combine has fielded former army chief Gen JJ Singh against the former CM.

Jalalabad: Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal is locked in perhaps the most tantalising contest with two heavyweights from the state. Congress has fielded son of former CM Beant Singh and its sitting Lok Sabha MP Ravnit Singh Bittu, while AAP’s sitting Lok Sabha MP Bhagwant Singh Mann is other tough contender challenging the Badal scion.

Bathinda : Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu during an election rally in Punjab, Feb 2, 2017. Photo - PTI

Bathinda : Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu during an election rally in Punjab, Feb 2, 2017.
Photo – PTI

Amritsar East: Former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu is contest from this seat on Congress ticket. After quitting BJP last year, he had joined the Congress just few weeks ago. He is facing BJP’s Rajesh Kumar Honey and Sarabjot Singh Dhanjal of AAP.

Majitha: Punjab’s Revenue minister and target of both Congress and AAP during the poll campaign Bikram Singh Majithia is up against Sukhjinder Raj Singh Lalli of Congress and AAP’s advocate-politician Himmat Singh Shergill.

Figures of major political parties' performance in Punjab in last few polls.  Photo - RSTV

Figures of major political parties’ performance in Punjab in last few polls.
Photo – RSTV

Other prominent candidates are former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehragagga), Youth Congress chief Raja Amarinder Singh Warring (Gidderbaha), Badal’s estranged nephew Manpreet Singh Badal on Congress ticket (Bathinda Urban), AAP’s Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi (Batala), and state Finance Minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa (SAD, Lehragagga).

Besides the three main contenders, other political outfits in the fray include BSP, former AAP leader Sucha Singh Chhotepur-led Apna Punjab Party, the Left comprising CPI and CPI (M), and SAD-Amritsar.

By-election to Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, lying vacant after Amarinder Singh resigned protesting apex court order on SYL-Punjab river issue, will also take place on Saturday.

BJP leader Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina is up against Congress’ relative low profile Gurjit Singh Aujla and Aam Aadmi Party’s Upkar Singh Sandhu.