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Opponents’ goose cooked, says Congress in Punjab

Chandigarh: Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress party says his 42 years in politics allow him to disregard what the exit polls say. “I told the Congress president on Day One that we will get 70 seats,” he told NDTV this morning. The Punjab Assembly has a total of 117 seats. The Captain has already been named his party’s candidate for chief minister in Punjab. He said his opponents’ “goose has been cooked.”

Exit polls showed an unnervingly close race between the Congress and the Akalis, who are looking for a second term in office. The Congress gets a tiny lead according to the polls.

Punjab has so far spurned political sequels – in every election in the last four decades, the party in power has been voted out. The dial switches between the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress. That pattern puts Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, 84 years old, on the defensive. Compounding the challenge is the support lent this time by powerful religious sect Dera Sacha Sauda to the Congress.

In the general elections in 2009, the Dera had backed the Akali Dal, its Candidate Harsimrat Kaur Badal from Bathinda which is in Malwa, helping the party to win that seat. The rest of the seats in Malwa belt remained neutral.

The maximum damage though for the Akalis has been delivered by the public and caustic family feud between the chief minister and his nephew, Manpreet Singh Badal, who was Finance Minister till October 2010. His differences with his cousin Sukhbir Badal came out in the open after the latter became party president in 2008.Manpreet stormed out of the party with his supporters and floated a Third Front that’s led by his People’s Party of Punjab and includes the CPI and CPM. Manpreet’s father, Gurudas, is the chief minister’s younger brother.

Analysts say this Third Front will gnaw at the vote share of both the Akalis and their ally, the BJP.

So with some help from Manpreet, the Congress may emerge as the leader. Captain Singh has in his campaign stressed that the state will benefit if it votes for a party who is also in power at the Centre.

What he will have to overcome is the perception that Mr Badal is more of a people person. The Congress has also seen thwarted ticket-seekers moving in anger against the party, and siding with candidates from rival parties.

Both the Congress and the Akalis have chosen to focus on “development’ – the mantra that paid such rich dividends for Nitish Kumar, carrying him into office in Bihar. Mr Kumar has delivered swiftly and effectively on his promises. Whichever party comes to power has its work cut out. Both the parties want to use the card of development but will development plank be able to negate anti-incumbency would hold the key of Akali Dal.

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