They say, “War of Waterloo was won on the playfields of Eton”. Punjab is on war. This battle for political supremacy will be contested at 24,740 polling booths on February 20. Thirteen political parties, including three alliances, represented by 1304 candidates are face to face with each other to see who gets the mandate of 2, 14, 99, 804 electors, including 1,02,00,996 women, for grabbing political reigns of this debt torn border state. The battle of ballot features not only the incumbent Chief Minister, Charanjit Singh Channi, but also three of his predecessors – Parkash Singh Badal, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Capt Amarinder Singh – besides four MPs, three sitting – Sukhbir Singh Badal (Shiromani Akali Dal), Bhagwant Mann (Aam Aadmi Party), Partap Singh Bajwa (Congress)- and a former- Vijay Sampla (Bharatiya Janata Party). Two of them – Sukhbir Singh Badal, Bhagwant Mann – are also the Chief Ministerial candidates of their respective parties. Charanjit Singh Channi happens to be the Chief Ministerial face of ruling Congress party.
Five-times Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is the oldest candidate at 94. He is contesting from his home turf, Lambi, on the Shiromani Akali Dal ticket.
All elections are unique. And the ensuing elections to the Punjab Assembly are no different as they may script new chapters of electoral firsts to be followed later by the rest of the country.
Punjab, credited with pioneering coalition politics, has yet another milestone in the offing as it has three major coalitions in the fray. Besides the newly floated Shiromani Akali Dal- Bahujan Samaj Party (SAD-BJP) alliance, it has the ruling national party Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) continuing with a breakaway group – Sanyukt Shiromani Akali Dal – of one of its oldest partners – Shiromani Akal Dal – besides Punjab Lok Congress (PLC) – a dissident faction of its traditional rival in national politics, the Indian National Congress. No one could even in one’s farthest imagination would have visualized such an electoral understanding.
Then also in the run for political supremacy is a coalition of different unions of farmers led by the Bharati Kisan Union (Rajewal) Samyukat Samaj Morcha and Samyukat Samaj Party of the Haryana based farmers led by Gurnam Singh. This coalition is projecting Balbir Singh Rajewal as its Chief Ministerial candidate.
Since last Assembly elections in 2017, two of the major stakeholders – Shiromani Akali Dal and Congress – witnessed strong to mild dissensions. Six months before election, Capt Amarinder Singh, on being removed as Chief Minister, walked out of the party to form his own Punjab Lok Congress. The Shiromani Akali Dal also saw some of its Taksali leaders, including Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Sewa Singh Sekhwan, walking out. While Ranjit Singh Brahmpura returned to the party fold to remain a candidate from Khadoor Sahib, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, went ahead with his Sanyukt Akali Dal and entered a poll pact with the BJP and Punjab Lok Congress.
The main Opposition party – AAP – too witnessed revolts and walkouts as several of its sitting MLAs crossed over to Congress. They include Sukhpal Singh Khaira, now contesting on Congress ticket from Bholath.
Four Chief Ministers, including the incumbent Charanjit Singh Channi of Congress, the first Dalit Chief Minister of the State, are in the run. Among the remaining is Parkash Singh Badal of Shiromani Akali Dal, who has a rare distinction of ruling the State on five previous occasions. Capt Amarinder Singh, who left Congress after being removed as Chief Minister, six months short of his second term, is banking upon chances of returning to power with support of the Bhartiya Janata Party and Sanyukt Akali Dal. Mrs. Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, who had the distinction of becoming the first woman Chief Minister of Punjab in 1996 for a short term, is contesting against former Punjab Finance Minister and now a part of Sanyukt Akali Dal, Parminder Singh Dhindsa.
The February 20 polls will also witness three Olympians testing their political acumen. Seeking his third term from Jalandhar Cantonment is Hockey Olympian Pargat Singh. Opposing him is another Olympian Surinder Singh Sodhi of AAP. Third Olympian in the contest is cager Sajjan Singh Cheema who is contesting from Sultanpur Lodhi as a candidate of AAP.
Fourth Olympian, Ajitpal Singh, captain of the 1975 World Cup champion Indian hockey team, could not make it on technical grounds as he was not a registered voter in the State. He was named a candidate by the Punjab Lok Congress from Nakodar.
Sidhu Moosewala, a folk singer, who mostly remains mired in controversies, is the Congress nominee from Mansa. Opposing him his only medical consultant, Dr Vijay Kumar of AAP.
Though bureaucrats or civil servants are nothing new for their second innings in politics, the ensuing election will witness some of them, including policemen Kanwar Vijay Partap Singh (Amritsar North – AAP), Iqbal Singh Lalpura (Ropar, BJP), Harmohan Singh Sandhu (Chamkaur Sahib, SAD), SR Ladher (Gill, BJP), Surinder Singh Sodhi (Jalandhar Cantt, AAP), Pargat Singh (Jalandhar Cantt, Congress), Sajjan Singh Cheema (Sultanpur Lodhi, AAP), Kuldip Singh Vaid (Gill, Congress), Balwinder Singh Dhaliwal (Phagwara, Congress), Jagmohan Singh Raju (Amritsar East, AAP), and Shammi Kumar Kalyan (Nakodar, Punjab Lok Congress).
Every party has been doling out lucrative promises, doles, and appeasements. From debt waivers to special financial assistance to students, women, and unemployed youth, they have been in a neck and neck race in over running their opponents. They all promise to work for overall development of Punjab besides ending “Mafia Raaj” in sand mining, liquor and drugs.
Senior party leaders have been campaigning in Punjab. Even after abandoning his last visit to Punjab (Ferozepore) on alleged security lapses, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to travel to the Congress ruled State on February 14, 16 and 18 to address public rallies in each of the three regions of the State. Of late, he has been trying to woo Sikh voters not only by lauding the great contribution of Sikh Gurus but also appreciating the role the Sikh community has played in every sphere of life. He has been meeting Sikh leaders and even Dera chiefs, including Dera Radha Soami, the largest of all. Besides him, several Union Ministers, including Home Minister, Amit Shah, also went out to campaign in Punjab. Amit Shah paid obeisance at Golden temple and held a closed-door meeting with the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht.
From Congress, Rahul Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka, remained the star campaigners.
The AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal virtually made Punjab his temporary home for the past couple of weeks. His wife and daughter too joined him in seeking votes for AAP candidates.
Leaving nothing to chance, all parties and their candidates are putting their best foot forward to woo Punjabi voters. Still an average voter does not appear to be convinced as his experience has been bitter. Promises were made but not kept. Results on March 10 will reflect his mind.
Contests to watch
Kanwar Vijay Partap Singh (AAP) vs Anil Joshi (SAD)
Navjot Singh Sidhu (Congress) vs Bikramjit Singh Majithia (SAD) vs Jagmohan Singh Raju (AAP)
Ashwani Shekhri (Congress) vs Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa (Bharatiya Janata Party)
Sukhpal Singh Khaira (Congress) vs Bibi Jagir Kaur (SAD)
Navtej Singh Cheema (Congress) vs (Olympian) Sajjan Singh Cheema (AAP)
(Olympian) Pargat Singh (Congress) vs (Olympian) Surinder Singh Sodhi (AAP) vs Jagbir Singh Brar (SAD)
Charanjit Singh Channi (Congress) vs Harmohan Singh Sandhu (SAD)
Sukhbir Singh Badal (SAD) vs Mohan Singh Phallianwala (Congress)
Parkash Singh Badal (SAD) vs Jagpal Singh Abulkhurana (Congress) vs Gurmeet Singh Khudian (AAP)
Manpreet Singh Badal (Congress) vs Sarup Chand Singla (SAD)
(Singer) Sidhu Moosewala (Congress) vs Prem Arora (SAD) vs Dr Vijay Singla (AAP)
Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Congress) vs Gobind Singh Longowal (SAD) vs Parminder Singh Dhindsa (Sanyukt Akali Dal)
Harpal Singh Cheema (AAP) vs (Kabaddi player) Gulzar Singh (SAD)
Charanjit Singh Channi (Congress) vs Satnam Singh (SAD) vs Labh Singh Ugoke (AAP)
Bhagwant Mann (AAP) vs Parkash Chand Garg (SAD) vs Dalbir Singh Goldy (Congress)
Capt Amarinder Singh (Punjab Lok Congress) vs Harpal Juneja (SAD) vs Vishnu Sharma (Congress)
Iqbal Singh Lalpura (Bharatiya Janata Party)
SR Ladher (Bharatiya Janata Party) vs Kuldip Singh Vaid (Congress)
Parties and alliances in the fray
Party Contesting Men Women
Congress 117 107 10
Aam Aadmi Party 117 104 13
Shiromani Akali Dal 97 93 4
Bahujan Samaj Party 20 19 1
Bharatiya Janata Party 68 63 5
Punjab Lok Congress 34 32 2
Sanyukt Akali Dal 15 14 1
Samyukat Samaj Morcha 107 103 4
Samyukat Samaj Party 10 10 0
Lok Insaaf Party 34 34 0
CPI 21 21 0
CPI(M) 18 18 0
CPI(M-L) 11 11 0
Chief Ministerial faces
Charanjit Singh Channi (Congress)
Bhagwant Mann (AAP)
Sukhbir Singh Badal (SAD-BSP)
Balbir Singh Rajewal (SSM-SSP)
Sitting and former MPs and their constituencies
Partap Singh Bajwa (Congress) Qadian
Sukhbir Singh Badal (SAD) Jalalabad
Bhagwant Mann (AAP) Dhuri
Vijay Sampla (BJP) Phagwara
* Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events and hosting TV shows. For more in-depth analysis please visit probingeye.com or follow him on Twitter.com/probingeye