Punjab: the bright spot on Congress’ dark sky

Captain Amarinder Singh led the party to a decisive victory, winning 77 of 117 seats in the state

ByKshitij Malhotra
Punjab: the bright spot on Congress’ dark sky
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Captain Amarinder Singh is poised to return as Chief Minister of Punjab for a second term as Congress stormed to a convincing victory in the assembly elections today. The party won 77 of the 117 seats in the Punjab assembly, grabbing more than 38 per cent of the votes cast this election.

While exit polls had predicted an extremely close competition between Congress and newcomer Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the latter’s performance was quite poor. AAP managed to win 20 seats, commanding a lesser vote share (23.9 per cent) than the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance, which together bagged 30.6 per cent of votes. Despite the higher vote share, the ruling alliance could muster only 18 seats.

The numbers behind the win

It’s a welcome win for Congress in Punjab, especially since it managed to increase its seat share by 67 per cent in comparison to 2012, when it won 46 seats. Although in the previous election, it had a higher vote share – 40 per cent – it is important to remember that prior elections in Punjab were essentially a two-party fight between Congress and SAD (in 2012, SAD’s vote share for the seats it contested was 42 per cent). Thus, a vote share of 38 per cent is impressive considering this time around the addition of AAP into the fray made the election a three-sided affair.

Another bright spot for Congress is its good show across different regions of the state. In 2012, the party had performed abysmally in the Doaba and Majha regions (central and northern regions of the state, respectively), winning a meager 15 seats out of the total 48. Although a definitive regional breakdown of seats isn’t available yet, one look at the following map suggests it has made gains in both these regions in 2017.

A senior journalist from Punjab reckoned Congress has bagged 15 out of 23 seats in Doaba and 20-22 out of 25 seats in Majha. Thus, the total in the two regions could stand at 35-37 seats out of 48, more than double from the previous election. This was supplemented by its victories in the important Malwa region (which has 69 seats), indicating a “strong performance in all regions”, he added.

No surprises in big ticket contests

One of the most interesting encounters this election was expected to be the contest in Lambi, where the sitting MLA – CM Parkash Singh Badal’s – was challenged by Singh. The result, however, was hardly surprising – Badal won the Lambi seat for the fifth consecutive time, defeating Singh by a margin of 22,770 votes. Singh managed to win his home constituency of Patiala though, defeating runner-up Balbir Singh of AAP by more than 50,000 votes.

Another high profile encounter was scheduled for Jalalabad, where deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal took on the Sangrur MP of AAP, Bhagwant Mann. While initially Mann was in third place – behind Congress’ Ravneet Singh Bittu – he eventually managed to finish second, losing to the junior Badal by 18,500 votes.

Over in Amritsar East constituency, BJP MP-turned-Congress-member Navjot Singh Sidhu recorded a massive victory over BJP’s Rajesh Kumar Honey, winning by a margin of more than 42,000 votes.

Finally, senior lawyer HS Phoolka, contesting on an AAP ticket from Dakha constituency, won a narrow victory over SAD’s Manpreet Singh Ayali, who lost by 4,169 votes.

A double celebration for Captain

Singh, who is also celebrating his 75th birthday today, spent the first half of the day at his residence in Chandigarh. A couple of kilometers from his home, at the Congress Bhawan in Sector 15, the celebrations started early as trends indicated a Congress victory. Dhol walas were brought in around 9.30 am and gradually local Congress leaders began showing up at the office, visibly upbeat at the prospect of a win. By 10 am, as the gap between the Congress and other parties widened, a few leaders ventured out of the office and posed for photographs for the media, chanting slogans of “Congress party zindabad, Rahul Gandhi zindabad”. Around 11 am, when victory was more or less assured, the sounds of firecrackers momentarily drowned out the dhol.

Meanwhile, supporters and media thronged Singh’s residence, expecting him to address them.

Preceded by his family, he finally emerged from his home shortly after 2 pm as eager supporters attempted to present him with bouquets and media persons hollered questions at him. Evading all, he stepped into his car and after some effort, managed to exit his residence as supporters blocked the way. With a convoy of more than 20 vehicles, Singh and his family finally departed for his hometown Patiala, with cries of “Captain Amarinder zindabad, Maharaja Patiala zindabad” ringing out. For someone who had staked his all on this election, a double celebration surely seems to be on the cards.

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