By : K S Chawla
The Election Commission of India is all set to announce the schedule for the Punjab Vidhan Sabha polls anytime during the next few days, It is going to be big challenge for the Election Commission of India this time.
The Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi himself has admitted in an interview with a leading newspaper that elections in Punjab are a big challenge for the EC. The Election Commission is keeping a track of fast developments taking place in Punjab and in a latest move has sought list of 60 IPS and 20 IAS Officers from Punjab Government who can be put on duties to ensure free and fair elections in Punjab and can be put on emergency duties.
The Chief Election Commissioner who has visited Punjab and held meetings with the officers of the state administration and the political parties has gauged the political pulse in Punjab.
The Punjab state is riddled with the menace of drug trafficking, gangsters war and other criminals who have fled from the Punjab jails and have jumped parole. There are estimated to be more than 20,000 proclaimed offenders who are at large. There are 57 groups of gangsters with more than 500 members besides the deteriorating law and order situation in the state pose a big threat of violence in the election process.
In view of these developments, the Election Commission has sought strong security support from the Centre and the Chief Election Commissioner has also directed the Punjab to nab the maximum number of criminals who are at large and are committing crimes in Punjab.
The Punjab has witnessed some of the major killings (VIPs) and culprits wanted in these cases have not been arrested sofar. Rather the state government has entrusted the responsibility of nabbing the culprits to the CBI. The Punjab state is also notorious for the purchase of votes by the political outfits. The Election Commission is daily reviewing the law and order and political situation developing in the state and is not going to take any chance by relaxing the security arrangements.
Meanwhile the political scene continues to be confusing in Punjab and sofar, the emerging situation indicates that the state will witness a triangular contest between the ruling Shiromini AkaliDal-BJP combine, Congress and the new third entrant AAM AADMI PARTY (AAP). These three outfits have fully geared themselves up for the final battle royale.
The Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP combine and particularly the Akali Dal is not leaving any stone unturned to return to power for the third time. The Sikh dominated party is now playing all cards and lately has started playing the pathic card or what is known as the religious card to woo the voters. To the good luck of the Akali Dal, the 350th Parkash Utsav of tenth Guru Gobind Singh falls in the first week of January and preparations for the same are being made in Patna-the birth place of Guru Gobind Singh. Nitish Kumar led Bihar Government is taking lot of interest in celebrating the Parkash Utsav and is making huge preparations to receive the Sikhs from all over the world. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal which has been already sending jathas of Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims various place of pilgrimage is also not leaving any stone unturned to garner the support of the Sikhs.
The Punjab Government has arranged ten special trains which will run from different destinations for Patna Sahib. Besides hundreds of Punjab Government buses will also carry the devotees to Patna. As a matter of fact, the Punjab government has already been running special trains and buses to various destinations to take the devotees to places like Varanasi, Ajmer Shariff and in Punjab to Amritsar and other sikh historical places.
The Shiromini AkaliDal also organized a Pani Bachao rally at Moga on December 8. This rally was originally meant to celebrate the 90th birthday of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal who has completed 89 years. Parkash Singh Badal is now among the few oldest politicians of the country including DMK Chief Karunanidhi.
The Shiromani Akali Dal led by Sukhbir Singh Badal has released three lists of its candidates for the assembly elections. Out of 117 assembly seats 23 seats will go to the BJP – the alliance partner of the SAD. The BJP is yet to release its list of candidates.
However, the Shiromani Akali Dal has faced rebellion this time in a big way. More than half a dozen sitting legislators of the party have quit the party following refusal of ticket to them. They include Sarwan Singh Phillaur a six time Akali MLA, Maheshinder Singh, Inderbir Singh Bolaria and Ravinder Kaur from Nihalsinghwala. Pargat Singh former captain of the Indian Hockey team and Akali MLA from Jalandhar Cantt has also resigned. Almost all of them have joined the Congress party. Pargat Singh, Inderbir Bolaria and Dr. Navjot Kaur wife of cricketer turned politician Navjot Sidhu who resigned from BJP and joined the Congress are yet to be given tickets by the Congress. Navjot Singh Sidhu is also set to join Congress after dillydallying and after having talks with the AAP.
The ruling Akali Dal is at present fully exploiting the power which it has enjoyed for the past ten years now. Huge sums of money are being spent on advertisements in the newspapers about its achievements with the heavy burden on the state exchequer. The state government has also regularized the services of more than 30,000 adhoc and contractual employees who were first regularized through the ordinances. The Punjab Governor refused to give assent to the ordinances and the government had to summon special session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha for this purpose on December 19 and eleven bills were passed by it.
The Punjab state is already facing huge financial crisis and regularization of the adhoc employees and free travel to the religious places will put more financial burden on the state exchequer. The state is already facing fiscal deficit of more than 1.50 lakh crore. The father son duo is also busy in laying the foundation stones of new projects and inaugurating the half completed projects. Chief Minister has also made political appointments in a big way during the past one month.
The Punjab Congress led by Captain Amarinder Singh has also intensified its election campaign. The Congress has released two lists of its candidates. In the first list 61 candidates were announced and in the second sixteen candidates. The Congress is also facing some problems at some segments. The Congress has not taken its decision regarding Pargat Singh, Dr. Navjot Kaur and Inderbir Bolaria. The Congress has launched its programme of waiving the loans of the farmers and getting pledges from the youth that they will remain away from the drugs with the promise of providing them jobs. The Congress has received more than fifteen lakh such pledge forms from the youth of Punjab. It may be mentioned here that Punjab faces huge problem of unemployment. Captain Amarinder Singh has also promised to provide smart phones to the youth.
The AAM AADMI PARTY which received a big boost in 2014 Lok Sabha polls is facing lot of opposition from the original cadres who had joined the party with the hope that the AAP would provide a third alternative to the SAD and the Congress. This has given a big setback to the AAP in Punjab. The AAP leadership has not decided about the Chief Ministerial candidate for Punjab.
AAP leadership is trying to come out of the shock it has received in the recent past where allegations of accepting money for allotment of tickets and alleged sexual harassment of the women volunteers. The national convener of the AAP Arvind Kejriwal has started visiting Punjab more frequently and is organizing election rallies. No doubt that the AAP has received setback with the moving away of the original cadres, yet it is receiving support in Malwa and Majha regions. The AAP has put up Bhagwant Mann MP from Sangrur against Sukhbir Singh Badal at Jalalabad and Shergill at Majitha against Bikram Singh Majithia in Amritsar district. Sukhbir and Parkash Singh Badal have not announced assembly seats from where they will contest. Bhagwant Mann has declared that he would follow Sukhbir where ever the goes for the election. The Chief Minister would contest from Lambi it seat only.
Sukhbir Badal has been returned to Punjab Vidhan Sabha twice from Jalalabad segment but he will now face opposition from that seat as he has fell out with Sher Singh Gubhaya MP from Ferozepur. Gubhaya had vacated his assembly seat as MLA to enable Sukhbir to seek election and become deputy Chief Minister.
Sher Singh Gubhaya’s son Devinder Singh an IIT ROOrkie graduate and his uncle have joined the Congress following differences between Sukhbir Badal and Gubhaya. The Punjab Vigilance Bureau also raided the educational institutions run by Gubhaya family. Not only this Punjab Police also harassed Maheshinder Singh MLA from Baghapurana and Mrs. Ravinder Kaur Baghike from Nihalsingh wala when they quit the Akali Dal. Sukhbir Badal continues to follow the policy of allegedly harassing the opponents.
The AAP and Shiromani Akali Dal have intensified their fight on social media as well. The AAP has put up a list of ‘Dus Numbris’ of the Akali Dal while the Akali Dal has put up a list of seventeen ‘Ratnas’ of the AAP. Both have leveled allegations of corruption against each other in their lists.
The Bains brothers led Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) has entered into alliance with AAP and have been given six seats in Punjab. Both brothers will contest from Ludhiana Atam Nagar (Simarjit Bains) and Ludhiana South (Balwinder Singh Bains). They have announced two more candidates from Ludhiana city and one from Sangrur. Jagmeet Singh Brar who has joined TMC is still trying to have some sort of alliance with AAP but is being opposed by the senior leaders of AAP.
K S Chawla is a senior journalist based at Ludhiana.
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