Polls over. What next for BJP, Congress, Akalis and AAP in Punjab?
Punjab has cast its votes. The three main contenders - the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - are all waiting for 11 March when the results are to be declared.
But victory is not the only thing on their minds, there is also the burden they carry about their future. The stakes are very high for all of them and the future of these parties will be directed by the Punjab poll results.
Old party, new rules
To begin with, it is the grand old party the Congress has the maximum at stake. The party leaders, not only in Punjab but also at the Centre, are clear in their minds that a victory here will trigger their resurgence at the national level. This is something that the party desperately needs.
A victory in Punjab can give them the morale boost that is much needed for the party. If Congress' game plan succeeds here, it will also be a vindication of the new measures which the party leadership was bold enough to introduce in Punjab during the run-up to the campaign.
Primary among these was the decision to implement the 'one ticket one family' rule. Despite scepticism from various quarters, the party was successful in sticking to the norm right till the last ticket was distributed.
Many of the senior leaders were left grumbling when the party refused to give tickets to their wards or relatives. This was something that was decided upon by the party leadership for the first time and was a clear departure from the routine Congress culture.
The second important thing introduced by the party this time was to not name its chief ministerial candidate ahead of the polling. Vice President Rahul Gandhi announced Punjab Congress President Captain Amarinder Singh's name towards the end of the campaign, but party workers said that set the wrong precedent.
They pointed out that while everyone was clear that Amarinder would be the chief minister in case of a Congress victory since the entire campaign had been built around him, the party high command should not have delayed the announcement till the last. They added that this led to the Opposition, particularly AAP Convenor Arvind Kejriwal, continuing to take pot shots at the Congress right till the very end. And this proved to drain the Congress' campaign machinery that had to make things clear to the media time and again.
This is also the first time that the Congress fought the polls with the help of a professional poll strategist Prashant Kishor and his team from IPAC. It was Kishor and his team that came out with a series of campaigns and helped execute them at the ground level.
What hangs in balance
All these practices may be continued if the Congress wins these polls. If this is not the case, the party will further move to the sidelines of the Indian polity and for those in Opposition, this would be a big step towards the RSS motive of a 'Congress Mukt' India.
This is because even if the Congress wins Uttarakhand, Manipur, and maybe Himachal Pradesh later this year, these states are very small and politically of less consequence at the national level.
AAP ka kya hoga?
In the case of AAP, a victory in Punjab would simply announce its arrival on the national scene. This would also be a big leap in the projection of Kejriwal as a national leader.
After Punjab, which the party has high hopes of winning, the party is eying Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh that go to the polls later this year.
Observers say that a victory in Punjab would lead to a multiplier effect and the party stands to gain a lot in Himachal Pradesh too where the electorate is looking for a third option after being disillusioned with both the BJP and the Congress.
A victory in Punjab would mean that this would be AAP's first term in running a full-fledged state where they would have total control over things, unlike in Delhi where departments, like the police, are under the control of the Union Home Ministry.
This would give AAP an opportunity to present a new model of development for other states where they want to spread its roots and also prepare for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
For the Akalis, who are preparing for a defeat although the results are still not out, the post-poll period would be a time or some internal churning.
There are rumblings whether the party will continue to succumb to the dominance of one family under Parkash Singh Badal or turn to someone else. The interaction with the traditional party supporters during the course of the campaign revealed that the anger this time was not against the SAD but against the Badals and their coterie of ministers.
The SAD supporters blamed them of deviating from the principles for which Akali Dal stood for - whether it was on religious issues or the political issues.
There is a segment among the political observers that believe that it will be Sukhbir Badal who will dominate SAD politics. They say that over the last five years, Sukhbir efficiently put his supporters in places that matter within the party fold.
Matter of alliances
For the BJP also, the post-poll period would be a time to decide on certain important issues. Primary among them would be whether to continue the alliance with the Akalis or not.
Many in the party feel that if the SAD-BJP combine loses or for that matter even if the BJP tally comes down, the party would be paying for the anti-incumbency against the Akalis.
A large section of the BJP believes that the party must come out of the alliance and go solo if it wants to grow in Punjab, particularly in rural Punjab. A large number of the party cadres has been saying that Akalis were not letting their leaders function during the regime of the outgoing government.
They also say that the BJP leaders were treated shabbily and they could not do anything because their high command was unwilling to disturb the alliance.
Results apart, a lot of political churning is in the offing in Punjab for the months to come and this means hectic activity after the new government comes into power.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen