Punjab post 1966 has seen an alteration of government after every election with the population voting anti – incumbency. However, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) created history when they came to power successively for 2nd term. Last time this happened was in 1951-57, 1957-62, 1962-67 when congress dominated Punjab assembly elections. In those days, congress commanded a vote share of well above 40% and a good 2-3rd majority. After the partition, SAD came to power.
Since then, there have been alternate governments of Congress and SAD, though congress has never been really able to dominate the state elections. It’s true that congress got 87 seats in 1992 assembly elections but the voter turnout of mere 24% questions true congress domination in Punjab. Other than that, congress score was 48, 38, 66, 17, 63, 32, 14, 62 & 44 in 1967, 69, 72, 77, 80, 85, 97, 2002 & 2007 respectively, magical number being 59. Whereas the SAD – BJP alliance touched 80 seats mark on more than one occasion.
However, congress should be commended on superb comeback victory in 2002 after the 1997 debacle. In 1997, congress confined to only 14 seats. In 2002, it fought back in government with a total of 62 seats. This was thanks to the apologies rendered by congress party stalwarts for its past misdeeds. Also the restoration of peace in Punjab under stewardship of Beant Singh’s regime gained congress a lot of vote-bank including Sikh votes. This was boosted by corruption, nepotism, growing infighting in SAD and police atrocities throughout state under the Akali regime.
2007 was again a closely fought battle between the 2 rivals. Intensity was reflected in the nature of electoral participation of 1.69 crore voters which at 76% turnout was high even by Punjab standards. Punjab voted for change and SAD – BJP alliance came to power with 67 seats. It was the first time that the party coming to power had not dominated the malwa region. Among the factors that explain the overall congress loss, the most distinctive was the shift in votes of urban people, mostly upper class Hindu’s which prompted unprecedented success of BJP in Punjab. This was due to pro-Jat Sikh image of Amrinder Singh and his attempts to dabble in Gurudwara politics. After coming to power on anti – corruption and good governance platform, all government did was launch an all out offensive against the Badal family. Internal bickering did not help by any means. So, a combination of these major factors led to fall of congress popularity.
However, the 2012 elections have put up an interesting pretext. Manpreet Badal, who was Finance Minister in the Badal government and was until recently seen as the heir to the SAD(Badal) leadership, broke away to form the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP). A three-time legislator from the Gidarbaha constituency which falls in the Badal stronghold, Manpreet quit the party in 2011 citing the autocratic nature of the party leadership. It is widely believed that he was unhappy with Sukhbir Badal’s promotion as party president and his subsequent elevation to the post of Deputy Chief Minister. Manpreet was perhaps anguished by the development because he is several years senior to Sukhbir Badal in State politics. Moreover, Manpreet has considerable command over the traditional Akali vote bank because of his lineage and long involvement in party activities.
In the 2009 parliamentary elections, the Congress won eight seats, taking a lead in 65 Assembly segments, as opposed to the SAD-BJP’s six seats and lead in 44 Assembly segments. This indicated the emergence of a strong anti-incumbency sentiment. Sensing the public apathy, Sukhbir Badal launched election rallies much ahead of the announcement of the election schedule. He also advanced the launch of his campaign because Manpreet Badal had started to drum up support for himself against the government in February 2011 itself.
Ever since Manpreet’s rebellion, Sukhbir Badal has been on his toes. He was compelled to introduce governance reforms and consolidate his position in the party and the party’s position in the rural areas. He was forced to talk about development as opposed to Sikh identity issues. He also strengthened the party’s organisational structure gradually,” Ashutosh Kumar, a faculty member in the Political Science Department of Panjab University, said. While Prakash Singh Badal is seen as a grand old man in Punjab politics, Sukhbir is the one who talks about governance. This is primarily because Manpreet started the rhetoric of good governance in the party and debunked all forms of Sikh identity issues, the plank on which the SAD was formed and has evolved. In order to counter Manpreet’s opposition, Sukhbir became the new face of development in the SAD-BJP. The SAD-BJP government, after the losses it suffered in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, introduced several governance reforms, including the Right to Service Act, which holds the bureaucracy accountable for delayed services, and made access to farm loans easier. Another important scheme of the Badal government is the Atta-Dal scheme, the only successfully managed one out of many such schemes. It guarantees free wheat flour and pulses to the economically weak. While the normal below poverty line (BPL) number is somewhere close to three lakhs, the SAD-BJP combine in a State-specific survey redefined the number to around 20 lakhs. This has had a good response among the rural poor.
All these factors combined with over dependence of congress on anti-incumbency factor and inability to raise and propagate their agenda saw the SAD-BJP combine storm to power in Punjab for a second consecutive term in the state assembly polls which saw the Congress gaining in terms of vote percentage despite failing to live up to its expectations.