The Congress, which stormed into power in 2017 with victory in 77 seats and a vote share of 66%, faces an uphill task in this assembly elections.
The party is battling not just anti-incumbency but also deep divisions within. It has lost its “Captain”. And, to make matters worse, the party also seems to be “rudderless” – being pulled in different directions by chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Sidhu, who was instrumental in the ouster of Captain Amarinder Singh — the senior most Congress leader in the state till he quit the party to float his own outfit — is upset at not being named the party’s chief ministerial candidate.
When Charanjit Singh Channi was installed as the first dalit chief minister of the state, many, including Sidhu, thought he would be a stop-gap arrangement. However, Channi has surprised everyone with his political acumen and is now one of the frontrunners for the top job.
The fact that dalits constitute a significant percentage of the state’s population makes it difficult for the Congress to sidestep Channi in favour of Sidhu. At least for now.
The Congress has traditionally performed well in the state except in 1997 when it registered its worst performance winning 14 seats and in 1977 when it bagged 17 seats. The 2017 result of 77 seats was the third best performance of the party in the state. Before that, in 1962, Congress got 90 seats and then in 1992 it won 87 seats.
Congress’s principal challenger in these elections is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). AAP made an impressive debut in the state in 2017 elections winning 20 seats with a vote share of 23.7%.
Opinion polls have suggested that the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP is set to emerge as the single largest party in the state. The party’s recent success in the Chandigarh municipal polls has given it a big boost ahead of the assembly elections.
The third key player in the state elections over the years has been the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). In 2017, the party put up a dismal show, winning only 15 seats with a vote share of 13%.
However, each time the Congress has performed poorly in Punjab, the SAD has been the biggest gainer. The party registered its best performance in 1997 winning 75 seats, when Congress got its lowest score in the state. SAD’s second best performance was in 1985, when it won 73 seats.
All these years, the SAD contested elections in alliance with the BJP. This time around, the two parties have parted ways and it will be interesting to see how much of a force SAD is on its own.
This brings us to the fourth key player in these elections, the BJP. After playing second fiddle to the SAD for years, the BJP this time has decided to enter the fray on its own terms and as a senior partner.
In 2017, the BJP could manage to win only 3 seats with a vote share of 2.6%.
This time, the party has tied up with Captain Amarinder Singh, who is without any doubt one of the tallest leaders in the state. However, it remains to be seen how much of an influence the former chief minister will have after parting ways with the Congress.
Besides, the BJP also has to contend with the ire of the farmers, who are in significant numbers in the state.
The party would hope to gain from the Centre’s decision to withdraw the three farm laws.
The BJP registered its best performance in the state in 2007 winning 19 seats with a vote share of 16%. In 1997, the party won 18 seats with 15% of the vote share. It would need a much greater push to emerge as a key contender in the state’s politics.
Meanwhile, the farmers of Punjab have also announced to enter the electoral fray this time around. At least two groups of farmers have announced plans to contest the elections. However, with not much time left, it is unlikely that they will have a considerable influence on the results.
With a four-way battle on the cards, it will be interesting to see how Punjab votes in this election.