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Amarinder Singh has energised the Congress party in Punjab
Amarinder Singh has energised the Congress party in Punjab

Punjab Congress launched its “2/3 Bahumat (do tihaai bahumat or two-thirds majority)” campaign on Wednesday. It took out bike rallies, roadshows, conducted door-to-door exercise, mega rallies, street plays and padyatras. Around 13,000 bikers raced around the state with Congress flag on their bikes.

That apart, 400 dholwalas and 1500 volunteers on ground were involved in door-to-door engagement. Around 500 nukkad plays and sabhas were also conducted.

While Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh held public meetings in Muktsar, Faridkot and Jaito, Navjot Singh Sidhu held rallies in Bhadaur, Rampura Phool Bhucho Mandi, Sardulgarh and Malout.

The high-voltage campaign for the February 4 assembly elections in Punjab came to an end on Thursday evening following hectic campaigning by various political parties. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi wrapped up his campaign during which he kept up the offensive against ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine and other rivals who gave back in equal measure.

The SAD-BJP combine is up against Congress and Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party which is fighting state polls for the first time. The execution will witness key contests featuring several political stalwarts like Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy CM and SAD chief Sukhbir Badal, state Congress chief and former CM Amarinder Singh, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu who left BJP for the Congress, and AAP leader Bhagwant Mann.

Key campaigners since the announcement of elections to the 117-member Punjab Assembly on February 4, included Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Others included Delhi chief minister Kejriwal, BSP chief Mayawati, union home minister Rajnath Singh and a number of central ministers and senior leaders of various parties including Congress, SAD-BJP alliance and BSP.

The key issues during the campaigning included drugs, river water issue including SYL canal, cancer in parts of the state, law and order, sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib, farm debt, farmer suicides, and development.

The thrust of canvassing at the fag end of electioneering was in the Malwa region of Punjab comprising 69 assembly seats.

The dust settled at 5 pm when the loud-speakers went silent as parties asked their cadre to get on with the job of door-to-door campaign for persuading the voters for voting which will commence at 7 am on Saturday.

Modi unleashed a poll blitzkrieg addressing two rallies -Jalandhar and Kotkapura -in the state where he sought votes for SAD-BJP on development plank and stable government in the border state where Pakistan is trying to disturb the peace.

Modi attacked Congress accusing it of forging an alliance with Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh and Communist Party in West Bengal for “lust for power”. He also described Congress as a “boat which had already sunk”.

On the other hand, Rahul took the campaign to pocket boroughs of the ruling Badals, including Lambi, Majitha, and Jalalabad, taking on the opposition over dynastic politics and corruption.

Rahul also declared Punjab Congress chief Amarinder as the party’s chief ministerial candidate.

He said Punjab, a front ranking state, had fallen behind as the ruling Akalis had allegedly plundered it to serve themselves, even as he raked up the drugs issue promising tough laws to tackle the scourge if the party comes to power in the state.

Union Minister and SAD’s Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal said the explosion at Maur was “a wakeup call for Punjabis to reject both AAP and Congress and vote in the SAD-BJP alliance which was committed to maintaining peace and communal harmony in Punjab at all costs”.

On the other hand, Rahul and Amarinder held Kejriwal squarely responsible for allegedly promoting extremist forces such as the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) in the state, and said the bomb blast in Bathinda showed that the inoperative terror cells of the Khalistanis were again getting active.

Amarinder said Kejriwal, who had himself stayed at a KCF extremist’s house in Punjab, was fanning terror forces through his actions, led by the dangerous mix of the AAP’s extreme left and extreme right ideologies.

It was only from Punjab in which Kejriwal’s outfit won four seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However, later two MPs were suspended from the party.

Ahead of the polls, political leaders from Punjab cutting across parties had flocked Sirsa-headquartered Dera Sacha Sauda to seek ‘blessings’.

While the leaders, many of whom are contesting assembly polls, had maintained there was nothing political about their visit, the Dera, which has a number of followers, especially in the Malwa belt, had announced to support candidates of SAD-BJP combine in the polls.

Key contest on the cards is from Lambi seat where CM Badal, who is seeking another term, is locked in a triangular contest with Amarinder Singh and journalist-turned-politician Jarnail Singh of AAP.

Jalalabad -a pocket borough of Sukhbir-is witnessing two sitting MPs Ravneet Singh Bittu (Cong), grandson of late chief minis-ter Beant Singh, and comedian-turned-politician Bhagwant Mann locked in three-way fight against the Deputy CM.

Veteran Congress leader and former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal is fighting it out against finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa of SAD from her tra-ditional bastion Lehragagga. AAP’s Himmat Singh Shergill is up against revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia from Majitha and AAP’s Ghuggi from Batala against Congress stalwart Ashwini Sekhri.

Rahul Gandhi has campaigned hard in Punjab
Rahul Gandhi has campaigned hard in Punjab

Patiala is another seat which is witnessing a close contest between Amarinder and former army chief Gen J J Singh of SAD. Sidhu is fighting it out from Amritsar East against Rajesh Kumar Honey of BJP.

Badal’s estranged nephew Manpreet Singh Badal is trying to return back into main politics from Bathinda Urban seat on a Congress ticket. Indian Youth Congress Chief Raja Amarinder Singh Warring is test-ing electoral battle from Gidderbaha. A total of 1,146 candidates are in the fray for Punjab Assembly polls.

Punjab is set to witness three-cornered contest between SAD-BJP, Congress and AAP. SAD has fielded candidates in 94 seats while its ally BJP has nominated candidates in remaining 23 seats. Congress is contesting alone on all seats.

Aam Aadmi Party, which is contesting Punjab polls for first time, has fielded its can-didates in 112 seats, while its ally Lok Insaf Party, led by Ludhiana-based Bains brothers, have fielded its nominees in five seats.

Other political outfits in the fray in-clude BSP, former AAP leader Sucha Singh Chhotepur-led Apna Punjab Party, the Left comprising CPI and CPI (M), and SAD-Am-ritsar.

SAD is going to polls with 89-year-old Parkash Singh Badal, the oldest CM in the country, as its CM face for the sixth time, along with decision making and their execu-tion largely by Sukhbir.

With two back-to-back victories in 2014 -first in parliamentary elections and then in Haryana polls -BJP appeared to be riding high on popularity. Its leaders were blow-ing hot and cold about the alliance with the SAD. Former MP Sidhu, known for his sar-castic attacks on Congressmen, including Ra-hul Gandhi, during his tenure in the BJP, is now going all out to attack the Akalis.

With just few days left to go for the cru-cial elections, there is political uncertainty on the issue as to who will assume power post-March 11 when the results are declared.

The reason for this is that Punjab, for the first time, is witnessing triangular contests in most of the 117 assembly constituencies.

But a fierce AAP wind is sweeping Pun-jab’s Malwa region, threatening to change the politics of north India. The Akalis have been swept away ruthlessly. The BJP has been re-duced to a helpless spectator. Only the Con-gress stands in the way, trying to stop the AAP and its own decline into political irrelevance.

What started as an undercurrent in the re-gion that has 69 Assembly seats and thus holds the key to Punjab is now turning into a move-ment for a paradigm shift in Punjab politics.