While there remains uncertainty over the Congress’s prospects in the rest of the country, Punjab is likely to go with the Rahul Gandhi-led party thanks to the Amarinder Singh government, a divided Opposition, and no visible change in public mood against the main opponent Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
In addition to the farm loan waiver, improved law and order situation, along with the strong leadership of Amarinder Singh remain big factors for the Congress’s poll prospects.
But more than Congress’s popularity, the ruling party is likely to benefit from the division in the Opposition votes. The Shiromani Akali Dal, which won four seats in the 2014 polls, is yet to recover from the perceived anger against the Parkash Singh Badal’s decade-long rule which reduced the grand old party to the third position in 2017 Assembly polls behind the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
More so, the Sukhbir Badal-led party continues to be on the back foot over the incidents of sacrilege of the Sikh holy book and police firing on the anti-sacrilege protesters during Badal regime which led to the death of two persons.
The SAD’s alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won three seats in 2014 polls, lacks the structure, especially in the rural areas to deliver the result on its own and has no option but to stick to the old alliance partner in the state.
In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, AAP was a rising force in the state and it managed to win four of 13 seats, Sangrur, Fatehgarh Sahib, Patiala and Faridkot. But despite giving a stiff competition to the Congress in the run-up to the February 2017 polls, the Arvind Kejriwal-led outfit has failed to keep up the momentum and has since then seen a number of exits and defections to other parties.
The extent of AAP’s dwindling support can be gauged from the fact that the party candidates in the by-poll for Lok Sabha (Gurdaspur) and Assembly (Shahkot) lost deposits and suffered humiliating defeats.
Moreover, despite becoming the main Opposition party by winning 20 of the 117 Assembly segments, AAP split into two factions with seven of its Members of Legislative (MLAs) forming a separate group under Sukhpal Singh Khaira’s leadership.
Of the four Lok Sabha members, two – Dr Dharamvir Gandhi and Harinder Khalsa – were suspended by the party for dissenting against the Delhi high command. Therefore, only two sitting MPs (Bhagwant Mann and Sadhu Singh) remain with the party in addition to 12 MLAs (one MLA, HS Phoolka has also resigned from the Assembly and party).
Both the AAP and SAD are set to face further loss in their respective vote bank due to the formation of new outfits by their rebel leaders.
Former AAP leader Khaira – who has formed Punjabi Ekta Party – has brought together six smaller parties including Punjabi Ekta Party (PEP), Lok Insaaf Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to take on the Congress and SAD-BJP.
The SAD is also facing the prospects of losing a sizeable number of votes, especially in Majha region with party rebels led by Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, the sitting Member of Parliament from Khadoor Sahib forming SAD (Taksali).
The AAP is trying for an alliance with the SAD (Taksali).
In this scenario, the ruling Congress – which has 78 MLAs – certainly has the edge over other parties ahead of the May 19 Lok Sabha polls.