With Thursday being the deadline for filing nomination for the coming assembly elections in Punjab and political heavy-weights like Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and State Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh having filed their nominations, other candidates from all political parties are lining up to file their papers. However, campaigning is yet to pick up to attract voters to their respective sides.
Elections to the 117 assembly constituencies in Punjab is scheduled for January 30 and the date for completing the process of scrutiny of nomination papers and withdrawal of candidature is still five days away.
Under the strict eye of the Election Commission monitoring all electoral activities, including expenses of prospective candidates in the run up to the polls, major political parties are exercising all caution. Political parties need to inform the returning officers about placing of advertisements, putting up hoardings and even organizing rallies in their respective assembly segments. With the expenditure limit put at Rs. 16 lakh for an assembly seat, candidates have to maintain their log books in a register on expenses incurred in organizing meetings, hiring vehicles and tents and even for offering refreshments to the party workers.
Both the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine and the opposition Congress face rebellion from aspirants who could not be accommodated though their leaders have tried to soothe dissatisfied leaders and workers. Also, making his presence felt in the electoral arena is Manpreet Singh Badal, former State Finance Minister and a member of the Badal clan who broke away from the Badal family and floated his own People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) less than a year ago.
The outfit, in coalition with the Left parties, is likely to make a triangular contest in about a dozen assembly seats. The 1997, 2002 and 2007 assembly elections were straight contests between the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress. This time around, the PPP has tied up with the Shiromani Akali Dal (Longowal) and the Left parties. The newly formed party is pinning its hope on the agrarian Malwa region. Interestingly, Manpreet Singh Badal is also four times MLA and represents Gidderbha where he is taking on former Congress leader Sant Singh Brar, who has switched sides to join the Shiromani Akali Dal.
Akali's prize catch
For the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, a big catch was Capt. Malwinder Singh, brother of Capt Amarinder Singh, who left the Congress and joined SAD a few days ago. Though the SAD likened the development as an “atom bomb” that will spell doom for the Congress, political analysts here have not attached much significance to it as the campaign for the polls is yet to take off.
Capt. Amarinder Singh has put down all reports of rebellion, saying that out of 1550 hopefuls, nominations can be given only to 117 candidates. This time the Congress nominees include 11 women, 24 of those below 45 years of age, five youth leaders and 19 functionaries of the State unit of the party. The party was also forced to change three candidates in Amritsar and Jalandhar.
On the other hand, the Shiromani Akali Dal has fielded former Indian Hockey captain and Olympian Pargat Singh from Jalandhar as well as Dr. Navjot Kaur, wife of BJP MP and cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, from Amritsar (East). Former Punjab police chief Gill and former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister D. S. Guru are also among the SAD candidates who are in the fray for the January 30 polls.
If the SAD-BJP combine is banking on the theme of development, infrastructure, setting up new colleges, bringing four new power projects to Punjab and introducing community policing, the opposition Congress has dubbed it as a ``pack full of lies.’’