Fate of Punjab's ageing leaders in hands of state's young voters
New Delhi , Jan.19 : Young voters will decide the fate of ageing leaders Prakash Singh Badal and Captain Amrinder Singh who are the chief ministerial faces of two rival political parties - the Akali Dal and the Congress in Punjab this year.The assembly elections for 117 seats in Punjab will be held on February 4 and results will be announced on March 11, 2017.
Nearly 10.5 million (53 per cent) of the total 19.7 million voters are young, including first-time voters, in the 18-39 age groups. Over seven lakh youngsters attained the age of 18 and were registered for voting last year.
These young voters are likely to hold the key for major political parties - the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance led by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who is 90-years-old, and his rival, Punjab Congress Chief Amarinder Singh, who will turn 75 in March this year.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has not announced its chief ministerial candidate for the crucial assembly election so far.
Age and Sex-wise Composition of Electorate:
Age: 18-25 years
Third Gender: 122
Third Gender: 164
Third Gender: 69
Age: Greater Than 60
Third Gender: 25
Overal Total: 10440310
Third Gender: 380
Punjab has a total population of over 28 million, in which 10.4 million are males and 9.31 million females.
Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance had won 68 seats combined, of which the Akali Dal had won 56 seats and the BJP 12 seats. The Congress won 46 seats.
The year 2012 was an exception when the SAD-BJP combine romped home to an unprecedented successive win, which was largely blamed on the Congress's hubris and blunders in ticket distribution.
Otherwise, since 1947, the two traditional parties, the SAD and Congress, have dominated the electoral landscape and taken turns to rule the border state - a neat seven times each.
Three-cornered contest on the cards
With a clear three-cornered contest on the cards between SAD-BJP combine, Congress and AAP, the result of assembly elections in Punjab will not have any less implications for national politics than in Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress is upbeat with the joining of Navjot Singh Sidhu and a victory for the party will stem the rising sense of doom and gloom surrounding around the party. By coming out of coma, it will be able to give its best shot in Gujarat in the upcoming assembly elections.
Should the Congress win in Punjab, there is a realistic chance of refashioning the national narrative in the five poll-bound states, but if it suffers another electoral debacle, the third on a trot, it could well be pushed off the map of yet another state in fast saffronising India.
On test in Punjab, this year is Captain Amrinder Singh's reputation as the only leader capable of catapulting the party onto the victory podium. Blemished by two successive assembly defeats, Captain Amrinder, the scion of the Patiala royal family, has a lot to redeem in what he calls his last electoral outing. Captain Amrinder recovered his political luck in his dramatic Amritsar victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He is in an upbeat mood, but he has to contend with a determined AAP which is proving to be a more powerful foe than the Akalis whom Rahul Gandhi recently reckoned were a "formidable machine".
The ruling SAD-BJP Government led by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, is battling an anti-incumbency factor in the 2017 assembly election and it is widely believed that the BJP-SAD alliance will find it hard to return to power. Ten years of incumbency and the simmering anger against allegations of corruption, nepotism, encouraging various mafias dealing in drugs, transport, land, sand, liquor and others, are flying thick and fast against the leaders of both parties and have put the BJP-SAD government in a tight corner.
However, the BJP has proved its doubters wrong with the recent municipal polls in Chandigarh, the capital shared by Punjab and Haryana, in which the BJP-SAD combine swept. The result of municipal election could also be an indication of what may follow in the Punjab assembly polls.
The BJP, which won 20 wards out of the 26 that went to polls, will try to capitalise on this victory and use it as a launch pad for poll campaign. The union territory of Chandigarh houses the Assemblies and power centres of both Haryana and Punjab. BJP remains strong in both states and that influence is rightly reflected in the capital's politics.
One important factor to note, that the competitors in the municipal polls were Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party.
The saffron party and the SAD forged their first pre-election alliance in 1996 which has since solidified into a social coalition encompassing Sikhs and the BJP vote bank of Hindus. Out of four assembly polls in last two decades, the combine has won three - in 1997, 2007, 2012 and ruled as steady partners.
The SAD has a say in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and its patron Parkash Singh Badal is well respected.
The Akalis are contesting 94 seats and have their traditional vote bank in rural Punjab. The BJP is contesting 23 seats and banks mostly on urban votes. The Congress and the AAP have made inroads into the rural vote-bank of the Akalis.
The third major contender, the Aam Admi Party (AAP), has been fast gaining ground in the state after a worthy performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The AAP got an encouraging response in Punjab when all four of its candidates won in their maiden elections. In fact, Punjab was the only state where the AAP won all the four seats it contested from.
A major advantage that the AAP enjoys is that unlike the Akalis and the Congress, the AAP is not saddled with historical baggage but the disadvantage is that it has no historical advantage either. The Congress and the Akalis have a regional orientation which the AAP is yet to develop.
If the AAP wins Punjab, it will break the myth that it is an urban party, a one-state phenomenon that it can't deal with caste or rural society. If it loses, it will be demoralised and loose the prospects in other states too. The winning of AAP in Punjab was a clear warning to the Congress and the SAD-BJP to reform or perish.
And now, the 2017 Assembly elections will demonstrate whether these established parties have reformed, or the AAP has joined their bandwagon.
It is widely believed that Punjab is the only state out of the five going to polls this year where both Congress and AAP have a real chance of winning.
Bahujan Samaj Party
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the fourth largest party in Punjab, started preparations for 2017 assembly polls long back by launching Pind Pind Chalo, Ghar Ghar Chalo campaign, a door-to-door drive to cover 29 million people across 550,000 households with Punjab Bachao, BSP laao (Save Punjab, elect BSP) as its main slogan from 1 November 2014 after improving its vote share in 2012 elections. The BSP had announced a list of nine candidates for 2017 Punjab assembly elections on September 25, 2016.
Mayawati had attacked SAD-BJP government as 'anti-Dalit' and Arvind Kejriwal as a "baniya" who had "always worked against Dalit and Scheduled Caste people" before he became Delhi Chief Minister on 15 March 2016, during a mega-rally in Nawanshahr on the birth anniversary of BSP founder Kanshi Ram in Punjab.
The BSP, which came second from Balachaur Vidhan sabha seat with 21943 votes in 2012, has declared that it will root out the drug menace from the state within a month of coming to power in Punjab. The party has also announced a 10 percent reservation for the poor upper castes if the BSP government comes to power in Punjab.
Assembly seats: 117
Punjab polls: 4th February in single phase
Population in 2011: 2.77 crore
Parties in power: Shiromani Akali Dal, BJP
Chief Minister: Parkash Singh Badal
Other contenders: Congress, Aam Aadmi Party
Caste and religion data (as per the 2011 census)
· Punjab is the only Sikh majority state in India. Total 57.69% of the state's population follows Sikhism.
· Hindus form 38.5% of the population,
· Muslims, 1.93%
· Christians, 1.3%;
· Buddhists, 0.12%; and Jains, 0.16%.
· Dalits constitute 31.94%, the highest percentage amongst all the states.
· Other Backward Classes constitute 20%- 25%
· Jat-Sikhs comprise 21%
· Other forward castes (general category) constitute around 20%.
The major issues:
1. The SYL - Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal Issue
2. Drugs in Punjab - How to control it and become a drug free state
3. Youth of Punjab - How will the youth get jobs and what developments can be done in regard to employment
4. Farmers needs and wants - what all measures can be done to improve farming and increasing productivity
5. Girl child education and corruption.
Multiple factors like religious affiliations, caste, economic policies, communal influence and personality cult may swing the election either way. In today's Punjab, there are no clear winners. The state, which has always voted decisively, is heading for another historic first.