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Has Punjab voted for change again?

Chandigarh: In about 40 years of Assembly elections in Punjab, no ruling party has ever returned to power for a second term. Punjab has always voted for change and the strong anti-incumbency has kept political parties on their toes.

Historically, the fortunes have swung between the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress and this time, it seems, will not be any different. Like clockwork, 2012 is Akali Dal incumbent and its Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s turn to feel the heat.

Mr Badal is also worried because the powerful religious sect Dera Sacha Sauda, that has a great hold over the 40 crucial seats in Malwa, is inclined towards the Congress this time.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Dera had tilted in Akali Dal’s favour.

The most brutal blow, though, has come to Mr Badal from within his family. With just a year left to the polls, nephew Manpreet Singh Badal, feeling sidelined by his decision to make son Sukhbir the party president, left with his supporters and floated a third front – The People’s Party of Punjab. This Third Front is being seen as the dark horse, and political pundits say will gain ground, eating into Akali Dal’s vote share.

The People’s Party of Punjab is also expected to dent the support for Akali Dal’s alliance partner BJP’s vote base in urban Punjab – a BJP whose performance has been at best timid in the Lok Sabha polls.

And the BJP’s loss is Congress’ gain, whose Chief Ministerial candidate Amrinder Singh is playing on the power card: Given that the Congress is in the Centre, his assurance to the voters is more integrated development and more Central funds.

The Manpreet Singh factor and Dera support holds out more hope for Mr Singh. However, the party is battling bitter infighting and a huge rebel factor over ticket distribution and it does not help that Amrinder Singh is not seen as connected to the people as Parkash Singh Badal.

The rural vote is more agrarian and more inclined towards Akali Dal and anti-incumbency is Congress’ big hope.

The caste factor and the right-wing Panthic ideology that held sway even a decade ago is passé in Punjab elections. The Nitish Kumar’s magic in Bihar has become the path to follow. The Congress and the Akali Dal are fighting with a common card – development – in what appears to be a neck-and-neck fight.

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