Badal Makes History in Punjab, Retains Power

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How the Akali-BJP combine bucked the anti-incumbency trend and routed the Congress despite the Manpreet factor...

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP alliance made history by overcoming anti-incumbency to retain power for the second consecutive term, thus creating history in the Punjab electoral politics. By winning 56 seats on its own and with its alliance partner BJP winning 12 seats, this will be the first time in Punjab's history that a ruling party has been voted back to power.

By wrestling 68 of the 117 Assembly sets, the Akali BJP combine has got a formidable lead over its main rival, Congress, which has won 46 seats. While three independents have won at the hustings, the Third Front under the banner of "Sanjha Morcha" has failed to get any seat.

The People's Party of Punjab (PPP) which was part of the third front failed to open its account and its president Manpreet Singh Badal lost both Gidderbaha and Maur seats. In fact he was third on both these two seats. The SAD-BJP alliance won the contest, but several of its heavyweights fell. This includes Vidhan Sabha Speaker Nirmal Singh Kahlon and ministers, Hira Singh Gabria, Sucha Singh Langha, Tikshan Sud, Ranjit Singh Brahampura, Satpal Gosain. Arunesh Kumar, Sewa Singh Sekhwan, Upinderjit Kaur, besides others.

It was only a one per cent swing in votes that gave the SAD - BJP alliance a gain of 22 seats. The SAD-BJP alliance polled 42 per cent votes with the Congress getting 41 per cent of the vote share. The PPP got six per cent votes that damaged the Congress more than it could harm the Akali Dal. Independents and others according to initial reports secured 11 percent votes that upset many poll calculations.

With a clear verdict in his party's favour, SAD patron Parkash Singh Badal is all set to be the Chief Minister of Punjab for the fifth time.

On the other hand, his bete noire and Punjab Congress President Capt Amarinder Singh, while conceding defeat for his party, accepted that the presence of 22 rebels against official party nominees was one of the major reasons for the setback.

Though the elections for the 117 seats were held on January 30, the people of Punjab have had to wait for nearly five weeks to know the outcome. The Model Code of Conduct remains in place till March 9 after which the swearing in of the chief minister and his cabinet would take place.

Chief Minister Badal said that his party was voted back to power because the SAD-BJP alliance lived up to every promise it made to the people. Besides, the alliance was successful in maintaining peace and communal harmony, besides ushering development - which translated into a victory for us, he said.

The SAD - BJP emerged victorious due to several reasons. It announced populist manifesto that promised continuing subsidies through schemes like atta-dal, pensions, free electricity and water, etc. In contrast, the PPP that was opposed to withdrawal of subsidies was completely voted out.

The split in the SAD in October 2010 with the then finance minister Manpreet Badal breaking away has proved advantageous to the Akalis. Fearing that Manpreet would bite into their vote bank, they started preparing for the current elections much ahead of the Congress and braced up their cadres and reviewed the party's strengths and weaknesses.

The failure of the Congress to involve prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh in the election campaign also proved costly. In the 2009 Parliamentary elections the Congress got a lot of votes in his name. But fearing that the scams faced by the Manmohan Singh Government may turn into major issues, the Congress let its President Sonia Gandhi and her family become the star campaigners. This did not click with Punjabis. Further the bigger scams at the centre overshadowed the smaller issues in Punjab.

Both the Badals - father-son duo - remained accessible to the people. This was perhaps what also paid back. The combination of governance reforms agenda clubbed with availability of the Akali leadership paid off.

Punjab like Haryana has an important lesson for the region. Alternating government every five years is now a thing of the past, reasonable governance with welfare measure for the people can ensure a repeat mandate. It has happened in Gujarat, Bihar and now people have started evaluating performance.

But what is true for the Akalis is not really the case for its alliance partner the BJP. The BJP has come down from 19 seats it held in 2007 to 12 this time. But it has done better than most people had expected. The most important reason for BJP doing well is that the SAD has helped the BJP come up higher than it would have done on its own. Further, the BJP managed to curb the rot in its ranks by completely eliminating dissidence. Lastly, the BJP replaced many of its candidates brining freshness into its campaign leading to a fair performance.

The Congress was jubilant and was expecting a lot from these polls simply on the presumption that was its turn to form the next government. But with the central Congress leadership faltering in giving any direction to the state leadership and then failing to identify and give tickets to the right candidates led it to its current state. The Congress leaders in Delhi got tickets for their cronies in Punjab with a view to have a proxy base in the state. This did not work for either the candidates or the party whose official nominees were faced by 22 rebels.

Badal on the other hand managed to keep his flock together. Giving a united fight, the SAD managed to get even "paratroopers" like Janmeja Singh Sekhon win from a constituency like Maur. For the Congress factors like Dera Sacha Sauda also did not work.

Sukhbir Badal who is getting all the credit for leading his party to victory has mastered the art of winning elections. He summed up the success of his party by saying, "The art of contesting elections has changed and one must adapt to the trends to be successful".

Shiromani Akali Dal, SAD)-BJP Alliance, Punjab Electoral Politics, Punjab, Congress, Sanjha Morcha, Peoples Party of Punjab, President Manpreet Singh Badal, Vidhan Sabha Speaker Nirmal Singh Kahlon, SAD Patron Parkash Singh Badal, Chief Minister of Punjab, Punjab Congress President Capt Amarinder Singh, Model Code of Conduct, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, 2009 Parliamentary Elections, President Sonia Gandhi