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Who will win Punjab? What are the key issues? Here's a ready reckoner

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 11 January 2017, 18:18 IST

As the forthcoming Punjab Assembly polls get notified, it is time to look at the factors that are expected to determine the outcome when the results are declared on 11 March.

This is going to be a bitter contest between the three key forces - the Congress, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

In the last elections, SAD-BJP had won 68 of the 117 seats, with the Congress (46) coming in second, and three seats going to independents.

But there was an interesting catch, as the Congress had the maximum vote share, polling 40.11%, while the Akalis polled 34.75% and their ally BJP pitched in with another 7.13%.

With AAP entering the fray for the first time and threatening to take away the victor's crown, it remains to be seen how this pattern of vote share changes.

The three regions

Malwa

- Home to 69 of the state's 117 seats.

- In 2012, the Akalis won 33, the Congress 32, and the BJP two seats.

- The region is increasingly looking like an AAP stronghold. In the 2014 general elections, Malwa sent four AAP leaders to the Lok Sabha - from Patiala, Sangrur, Fatehgarh Sahib and Faridkot.

- However, this doesn't mean it'll be a cakewalk for AAP. The Akalis and the Congress have both traditionally been quite strong in different pockets here, and will go all out to retain them and expand their bases.

Doaba

- Doaba is home to 23 seats.

- It features a high number of Dalit voters.

- In 2012, the Akalis won 11 seats, the BJP five and the Congress just six seats.

- The region was traditionally a Congress stronghold, but has seen a lot of changes since the 1990s.

- At one point, it saw the rise and decline of the Bahujan Samaj Party.

- Later, the Akalis emerged strong, with the BJP also making inroads into the urban areas.

- This time around, the Congress needs to drastically improve its tally in this region. This is also the region where tickets are yet to be distributed by the Congress, and the party might find itself facing rebellion on some seats.

Majha

- Majha is home to 25 seats.

- In 2012, the Akalis had won 12 seats, the BJP five and the Congress eight seats.

- This is the part of Punjab along the international border (Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Tarn Taran districts).

Key issues

Issues in Malwa

- Malwa will obviously set the tone for the issues that will be central to the polls. Malwa covers the districts of Faridkot, Muktsar, Moga, Bathinda, Ludhiana, Barnala, Mansa, Sangrur, Fatehgarh Sahib, Patiala, Ropar and Mohali.

- The key issue here is farm distress and farmer suicides.

- Then there is the menace of cancer, which is often attributed to the high pollution levels in the groundwater.

- The region lacks in health infrastructure.

- There is a rampant liquor and sand mafia.

- This is also the region where industry has gone into the doldrums. In the last 10 years, a large number of industrial units have been closed, because of multiple problems. A lot many have shifted to other states, including Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh. Industrialists have listed the high cost of power, high taxes, long delay in clearance of projects, delay in tax refunds and harassment by officials as reasons for exiting this region.

- The crime graph has also been going up in Malwa.

- There is also the issue of Dalits fighting for their land rights.

- Malwa has seen highly localised campaigns launched by AAP in the last two years, which resulted in the party making strong inroads among various sections of society, and developing a silent support base.

- At the same time, state Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh also has carried out a very aggressive campaign, which has been full of theatrics at times, to send home the message that the party can protect its supporters.

- The Akalis, on the other hand, have nurtured individual constituencies with care, and are playing up the infrastructural development, particularly the road network, and making the state power surplus.

Issues in Majha

- Because of its proximity to the international border, the most rampant issues in Majha are drugs and security. Majha has reported many drug hauls, and has also witnessed two terror attacks at Dina Nagar and Pathankot in the last two years.

- This region was also the epicentre of militancy in Punjab in the 1980s and 90s.

- There is also the issue of poor infrastructure, along with poor education facilities and employment avenues.

- The issue of Akali jathedars and halqa (constituency) in-charges virtually running the bureaucracy and dominating police functioning has made headlines on several occasions.

- The opposition has also been crying hoarse about the Akalis giving patronage to gangsters here, which the latter have always denied categorically.

- Observers point out that this region can be exploited for its tourism potential, but much needs to be done on this front.

- Illegal sand mining is said to be rampant in Pathankot and Gurdaspur.

- Amritsar's industry has also been witnessing a decline.

Issues in Doaba

- The Doaba region covers Jalandhar, Nawanshahr, Kapurthala and Hoshiarpur.

- It is a Dalit-dominated region with the Scheduled Caste population going as high as 45% in some pockets.

- But the plight of Dalits here is quite different to that in the other parts of the country, as some Dalits have done very well on the economic front after members of their families migrated abroad.

- This region is the NRI belt of Punjab. NRI-related issues like property and land disputes also dominate the politics here.

- Like Majha, this area is also under the shadow of the drug menace and the illegal liquor trade. Once known for its sports industry and producing sportspersons, particularly hockey players, the region has been witnessing the decline of the former on a large scale.

Broader issues

Besides region-specific issues, the desecration of holy books will be on Punjabis' minds, alongside the religious violence that has spiralled in the last year.

Another issue that threatens to become the centre of the political discourse is that of 'outsider' versus 'insider'. In an apparent move to test waters, AAP leader Manish Sisodia on Tuesday asked people to vote 'assuming that Arvind Kejriwal will be the Chief Minister of Punjab'.

This has been met by strong reactions from both the Akalis and the Congress.

SAD president Sukhbir Badal said: "The cat is out of the bag. Kejriwal has been salivating to become Chief Minister of Punjab for two years now, and finally, the party has made his announcement after clearing all the roadblocks in his way. The party, including Kejriwal, kept saying that a Punjabi will be chosen as its CM face, but has now chosen a Haryanvi who has already bartered away the interests of Punjab on the Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal to Haryana."

Amarinder, too, hit out at Kejriwal, saying he has finally exposed his 'obsessive' and 'abominable' lust for Punjab's Chief Ministerial seat, and added that if his nefarious design succeeds, then, for the first time in the history of Punjab, the state will end up with a Haryanvi Chief Minister.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

First published: 11 January 2017, 18:18 IST
 
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