The Hindustan Times – On record day of polling, Punjab voters keep the three parties on tenterhooks

Pawan Sharma

Chandigarh, 5 February 2017. The voting pattern in Punjab’s Malwa region, which accounts for 69 of the 117 assembly seats and reported a turnout of 80% on Saturday, points to a fiercely fought three-cornered battle.

But in Doaba and Majha regions, where voting percentages were lower than those in the last election, indicate a two-horse race.

These “conflicting signals” from Punjab voters could cause confusion, as well as worry, for the ruling SAD-BJP combine, the Congress, which is desperate to make a comeback, and debutant Aam Aadmi Party that is looking to capture a state outside Delhi.

Saturday’s turnout of 78.62% is a new record for the state, a shade higher than 78.57% in the 2012 election.

The voters in the Malwa region, which covers half the state, would make or mar the fortunes of the three parties, say analysts.

In Punjab’s poll math, it is long-held belief that the party that wins Malwa rules the state.

Another factor behind Malwa leading the state in voter turnout was heavy mobilisation and a three-legged race. Until AAP entered the fray, elections in Punjab were largely a contest between the Akalis and the Congress.

An “AAP wave” in Malwa districts was pronounced. And that was the reason that at least nine of the 14 Malwa districts recorded a voting percentage of above 80%.

Mansa district, which has three seats, led the state with a turnout of 87.34%. In all, at least 30 seats saw above 80% voting.

“The assembly segments, including those in Malwa, with turnout lower than that in 2012 point towards two-horse race,” a Punjab-based political observer, who didn’t wish to be identified, told HT.

For instance, all the seven constituencies in Sangrur district recorded above 80% polling.

In Fazilka district’s Jalalabad segment, where SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal is locked in a tight contest with Bhagwant Mann of the AAP and Ravneet Singh Bittu of the Congress, turnout was above 86%.

The last-minute support extended by Dera Sacha Sauda helped lift the spirits of the SAD rank and file, battling anti-incumbency and voter discontent.

The polling percentage in chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s Lambi constituency was 78%, down from 87.29% in 2012.

Comparative lower turnout in Majha and Doaba regions have the parties, especially the AAP, worried as the so-called wave in its favour seemed to have failed to cross the mighty Sutlej river.

The contest for the majority of the 48 seats in the two regions was between the Congress and the SAD-BJP.

In Majitha, where senior minister Bikram Singh Majithia is in the running, only 68% voters exercised their franchise in contrast to 81.84% the last time.

Doaba reported 74.77% polling against 76.69% in 2012 while Majha clocked 75%.

Till 2007, Punjab used to vote out the ruling party but in 2012, voters pulled a surprise by returning the SAD-BJP combine.

Is another surprise coming Punjab’s way? We will know on March 11.


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