Uncertainty looms as Punjab leaders await results

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Chandigarh : Having spent nearly a month relaxing, completing pending work and even lobbying for ministerial berths, politicians in Punjab are now readying themselves for Tuesday’s counting of votes and results to 117 assembly seats that went to polls Jan 30.

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Despite claims of impending victory by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance and the Congress, things on the ground remain quite uncertain for both sides as the election took place sans any wave in favour or against anyone.

The guessing game has of course been compounded by the exit polls of various agencies and news channels. While most of them are giving the Congress an edge to form the next government in the state, the Akalis are not willing to give up without a fight yet.

“The exit poll results last time had gone for a toss. The Akali Dal will create history in Punjab by coming to power for a second consecutive term,” an upbeat Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the deputy chief minister, said.

Sukhbir Badal had been holidaying in South Africa with his family in recent days.

Having led the party’s campaign from the front this time on his own instead of relying on his chief minister father Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir is expecting 75-80 seats for the Akali Dal-BJP alliance. The Akalis had won 48 seats in the 2007 elections.

The BJP, though, is keeping its fingers crossed about the results. It is the showing of the BJP which could eventually be a deciding factor for the formation of the new government. In the 2007 assembly poll, the BJP had won 19 assembly seats.

Congress leaders are quite upbeat that a government led by state Congress president and former chief minister Amarinder Singh will be in place next week itself. Ministerial aspirants and bureaucrats and officials eyeing key positions have been meeting him regularly.

Many hopefuls have been seen around Amarinder, who has mostly been in Chandigarh and Delhi in recent days. Some of them have been hosting private dinners for him.

“We will win at least 70 seats this time. We will put Punjab back on the path of development,” Amarinder Singh said here.

The Congress had 44 legislators in the outgoing assembly.

Whatever be the take of these two sides, the uncertainty is also owing to the fact as to how deep a dent the third front led by former finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal and his People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) will make.

Though mostly people are expecting Manpreet’s PPP to damage the Akali Dal more, since he is the estranged nephew of Chief Minister Badal, PPP has been able to draw the attention of youth voters in Punjab’s hinterland and towns.

“The youthful and clean image of PPP president Manpreet Badal has clicked with the electorate, especially young voters. The results will be a shocker for everyone,” a senior PPP leader said.

PPP had tied up with the Communist parties, CPI and CPI-M, and others like Akali Dal (Longowal) to put up a third front in these elections.