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Stakes high in Punjab Assembly polls as AAP scares BJP, Congress

Stakes high in Punjab Assembly polls as AAP scares BJP, Congress

It has been 10 years of Akali rule in Punjab, and the political equations have changed and the stakes are high ahead of Assembly elections.

It has been 10 years of Akali rule in Punjab. The political equations have changed and the stakes are high ahead of Assembly elections. And then there is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) factor that is scaring the BJP and the Congress.

The Congress Party in Chandigarh is showcasing leaders from the opposition joining their ranks. Its defeat in the 2012 Assembly polls led to Captain Amarinder Singh's ouster, but he returned after successor Pratap Bajwa failed to galvanise the party cadre.

While Amarinder is confident of a win, the Congress is facing a rejuvenated Aam Aadmi Party. Both Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal see Kejriwal as a formidable challenge, while publicly refusing to acknowledge it.

"It is not a challenger but it is the party that we will fight with. We don't rule out Akalis as a weak force, I am a soldier. Both of them are going to be taken head on," said Captain Amarinder Singh.

He added, "I feel Akali Dal has lost ground in Punjab. AAP is a new phenomenon, nevertheless there is a trickledown effect from Delhi."

Having secured four Parliamentary seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Punjab, AAP considers the state its next frontier.

Sukhpal Khaira, who left Congress to join AAP, accused Captain Amarinder Singh is trying to scare people using the word revolution.

"Revolution means to bring about a clean and transparent government like Kejriwal is doing in Delhi. Corruption is a major issue in Punjab. The state is under a huge debt while the leaders of other parties are having a good time. Revolution means to bring about a good clean and accountable government in Punjab," he said.

In 2011, former Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal quit the Shiromani Akali Dal and launched the People's Party of Punjab. In the last elections, PPP took away more than 5% vote share from the Congress. The 2017 elections will see a unified PPP-Congress combine take on the SAD-BJP.

PPP leader Manpreet Badal said, "In last 10 years we have eroded our institutions, police legislature. If you look at the present set up in Punjab, it is Mr Badal, son, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law’s brother, in any part of the world such an arrangement will need to progress."

For the Shiromani Akali Dal, a tough battle lies ahead. Ten years in power has given them enough time to show their strengths and expose their weaknesses. The recent Khadoor Sahib bypoll gave them a walkover, as both Congress and AAP refused to field candidates.

2017 will determine the fate of Punjab for the next five years. From the state's declining financial health to drug controversies and terror, to failing agriculture and farmer suicides, the poll run up will see a game of oneupmanship.

first published:February 19, 2016, 10:07 IST