Punjab all set for multi-cornered contest with all eyes on Navjot Singh Sidhu, Bhagwant Mann
Chandigarh : Punjab is all set for multi-cornered contest with 2.14 crore electorates, including 1.02 crore women, will cast votes on Sunday for the 117-member Assembly. The hot seats comprise Amritsar (East) from where Congress state unit chief Navjot Sidhu is in the race to retain it and Dhuri from where AAP’s chief ministerial face Bhagwant Mann is trying luck for the first time.The youngest in the political landscape is controversial crowd-puller candidate Sidhu Moosewala, while the eldest one is Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch Parkash Singh Badal, 94, whose feet were touched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi owing to humility after filing his nomination papers for the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency in 2019.In the Punjab polls, 1,304 candidates 1209 men, 93 women and two transgenders are in the fray, Chief Electoral Officer S. Karuna Raju told the media on Saturday. The counting of votes will be held on March 10.He said of 1,304 candidates 231 are from national parties, 250 from state, 362 from unrecognised parties, and 461 independent candidates. A total of 315 contesting candidates are with criminal antecedents.Raju said 24,689 polling stations and 51 auxiliary polling stations have been established at 14,684 polling station locations of which 2,013 are identified as critical and 2,952 vulnerable pockets.There would be 1,196 model polling stations and 196 women-managed stations. There will be webcasting of all stations.
Raju said the total electorates comprised 444,721 of the age of 80 years or more, 138,116 voters with disabilities and 162 COVID-19 patients.A total of 348,836 electors of 18-19 years age would exercise their right of franchise for the first time, while 1608 are NRI voters.The Chief Electoral Officer said since the Model Code of Conduct came into force, enforcement teams have seized valuables of Rs 500.70 crore till February 18.State excise surveillance teams have seized 58.18 lakh litres of liquor of Rs 35.43 crore. Similarly, enforcement wings have recovered psychotropic substances valued at Rs 368.60 crore, besides confiscating unaccounted cash of Rs 32.52 crore.
In the fray for 117 seats are three prominent parties — the ruling Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Sanyukt Samaj Morcha, and two alliances the SAD-BSP and the BJP-Punjab Lok Congress (PLC).The hot seats include Amritsar (East) from where Congress state unit chief Navjot Sidhu is in the race to retain it; Patiala (Urban), the ‘royal’ bastion of Congress rebel Capt Amarinder Singh, whose fledgling PLC is contesting the polls in alliance with the BJP and SAD (Sanyukt); and Dhuri from where AAP’s chief ministerial face Bhagwant Mann is trying his luck for the first time.The other hot seat to look out for is Chief Minister Charanjit Channi’s Chamkaur Sahib, a reserved seat that he has won three consecutive times. It is currently in the news for illegal sand mining.
Channi, the chief ministerial face who was elevated after Capt Amarinder Singh’s resignation on September 18 last year, is the first Scheduled Caste Chief Minister of a state that is home to 32 per cent Scheduled Caste population, the highest in the country.He is contesting from Bhadaur in Barnala district, a second seat, apart from Chamkaur Sahib.Five-time Chief Minister Badal, 94, is SAD’s nominee from his bastion Lambi, while his son Sukhbir is contesting from his ‘safe’ seat Jalalabad that he won in 2017 with 18,500 votes by defeating his nearest rival Mann of the AAP.Months after he came to the rescue of labourers walking back home in the days of Covid-19 lockdown, actor and philanthropist Sonu Sood himself was seen hitting the streets.With folded hands and a smile on his lips, he was going from house to house in scores of villages drumming up support for his sister Malvika Sood Sachar contesting the polls from her hometown Moga on Congress ticket.Leaving behind his celebrated tag of a top Punjabi rap singer with fans across the globe, singer-turned-actor-politician Sidhu Moosewala, who was booked for allegedly promoting gun culture and violence, is making his electoral debut as a Congress candidate from Mansa.During campaigning, he does not hesitate to fold his hands and bow his head before the commoners to seek votes for the party.Political observers told IANS that the BJP this time is focusing on the Hindu dominated at least 23 constituencies as a political field with the immense potential for making Prime Minister Modi’s three election meetings.
Punjab’s Hindu stronghold constituencies include Pathankot, Dinanagar, Mukerian, Dasuya, Hoshiarpur, Phagwara, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ferozepur, Abohar, Fazilka and Rajpura where hoardings of Ram Temple of Ayodhya in backdrop with inscription of Ram Mandir and Jai Shri Ram have become a common sight.At Modi’s Jalandhar, Pathankot and Abohar rallies, chants like Jai Shri Ram, Bharat Mata ki Jai and Modi-ji ko Jai Shri Ram rent the air, gradually raising the pitch of slogans related to its Hindu nationalism.Playing a religious card, Modi in Jalandhar blamed the local administration for expressing its inability to make arrangements for him to pay obeisance at revered Devi Talab Mandir during his visit to Jalandhar.Political observers told IANS that in these elections AAP is seen as the alternative to the traditional parties that have dominated Punjab’s electoral space for decades.Undeterred, SAD President Sukhbir Badal told IANS in an exclusive interview that the SAD-BSP alliance will sweep the polls and there is no question of rejoining the BJP-led NDA government. The party is determined to break Congress leader Sidhu’s arrogance. And Parkash Singh Badal is a people’s man and he’s contesting at the age of 94 is a natural corollary.In the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress had won an absolute majority by winning 77 seats in the 117-member Punjab assembly and ousted the SAD-BJP government after 10 years.The AAP had emerged as the second-largest party, winning 20 seats. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) won 15 seats, while the BJP, which had a coalition government with the Akali Dal in Punjab from 2007 to 2017, secured three seats.