Mist over voters’ priority in Punjab assembly election has to a large extent evaporated. Earlier confusion among electorate as to whom they will vote for this time round, has started disappearing. Direct contest between the Congress and the AAP appears to be on the card in Punjab, while Prakash Singh Badal headed SAD-BJP combine government seems losing its steam under the weight of anti-incumbency factor in several regions of the state, going for election on February 4. However, the Congress has long mile to go before it could cover some weak points in Malwa region, the state’s biggest region with 69 assembly seats. The AAP, with its humble door-to-door campaigns, street corner meetings and sustained verbal strikes against weaknesses of the Badal government, has covered much of the ground in the Malwa region. With maximum number of assembly seats in the region, no party can ignore its political weight in Punjab. As a result, it has become a centre of some nefarious elements’ activities too. Killing of three persons and injury of seven others in the twin blast in Maur, an area of the Malwa region’s Bhatinda district, points towards this fact. Though no one has claimed responsibility for it, there is a suspicion that this could be an act of radical elements in the state. Taking place close on the heels of accusation against AAP Convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for staying in a house of former militant of Khalistan Commando Force (KCF), Gurinder Singh in Moga, the incident has provided the Congress and the SAD a powerful ammunition to target Arvind Kejriwal. Despite this, it doesn’t appear the balance of scale will tilt against the AAP, at least in the Malwa region. Across regions like Majha and Doaba, the Congress has made significant inroads among youth and women voters of the state, but in the rural areas, it is the SAD which has still its sway among villagers and farmers. Yet any victory or loss by a party will be decided by Dalit, constituting 33 per cent of the total population.
Manifesto is seen as a vision document of a party. Often a campaign peaks and people get swayed when a manifesto remains full of populist measures. For example, the Congress in its bid to win away farmers from the ruling Akali’s influence, has promised loan waiver of as much as Rs 67,000 crore. The party has also committed to provide a job to each of 55 lakh households in the state. Obviously, the party does not like miss anyway while creating a positive perception about it among youth. Its promise to provide a stipend of Rs 2,500 per month to every youth till job is found, is a clear cut indication that this arrangement in manifesto has been made by the Congress keeping in mind youth, who, at the moment, appear disposed towards the AAP. On the drug menace, the party has promised to rid the state of drug trade within a month of coming into power. Interestingly, even the AAP says the same. It promises to make Punjab drug free within a month of forming the government and that drug victims will be rehabilitated within six months of forming government. Its tall promises include Rs 5 lakh cashless health insurance scheme, 25 lakh employment opportunities, making farmers debt-free by December 2018. The AAP also promises to dismantle ‘theka’ system in the state. On the other hand, the ruling Akali Dal, battling hard to recover a rhythm among farmers, has promised to provide Rs 100 bonus over and above the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of farm produce, Rs two lakh annual loan without interest for purchase of agriculture machinery to those who have less than five acres of land and waiving of loans of poor farmers. Regarding employment, the party promises creating 20 lakh jobs, setting up 2,500 skill development centres and loans up to Rs 10 lakh for those who open their own ventures after passing out of these skill development centres. The BJP, a small player which is contesting in alliance with the SAD, has focused on pro-poor agenda in its manifesto. It has assured a house to every poor family, land to Dalit and those belonging to backward class. It has also promised providing sugar and ghee at low prices and Rs 5 lakh assistance to the families affected by militancy.
There is no swing factor in Punjab. A perceptible demand for a change is there among people who have got fed up with the Badal government’s apathy on corruption, drug peddling, employment and law and order front. But lack of credible face in the Congress and the AAP who could make the demand for change a certainty, has made the thing only unpredictable in the state. Despite this and pro-people and pro-development budget passed by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, it is going to be a closely contested election between the Congress and the AAP in Punjab on February 4.