M A I N   N E W S

Billed as semi-final before 2014 polls, today’s Punjab, UP, U’khand, Manipur and Goa results may redefine political landscape
Big players pad up for crucial verdict
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

Manpreet Singh BadalNew Delhi, March 5
With just a day left for the results of the Assembly elections in Punjab, Uttarkahand, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Goa to be declared, political parties in the fray were today bracing themselves for the verdict, which is being billed as a “semi-final” before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Not only will these results have a far-reaching impact on the stability of the UPA government but will also determine the political future of AICC general secretary and Nehru-Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi who staked his personal prestige on the battle for the electorally crucial state of Uttar Pradesh by single-handedly leading the Congress campaign here.

Faced with a serious credibility loss, an aggressive Opposition and problematic allies, the Congress is looking desperately to notch up victories in these Assembly polls to give it the much-needed boost to take on its opponents and improve its ratings. If the Congress fares poorly, an impatient opposition will go all-out to savage the ruling coalition in the hope of emerging front-runners in the 2014 General Election.

All eyes are riveted on the Uttar Pradesh results which witnessed a high-voltage month-long campaign. BSP chief and Chief Minister Mayawati, who had surprised everybody by winning a majority on her own in the 2007 elections, had a tough fight on her hands this time as her government was clearly in the dock on charges of corruption and poor governance. The Samajwadi Party, which projected Mulayum Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh Yadav as the party’s new face, is said to be a clear front- runner this time on the basis of its successful consolidation of Muslim-Yadav support base. Moreover, the SP was perceived to be the leading party, which was capable of dislodging the Mayawati government.

THE FACE-OFF: Parkash Singh Badal versus Amarinder Singh
SAD in touch with Independents
Chandigarh: The SAD-BJP alliance is upbeat and so is the Congress. Both the parties are confident of occupying the treasury benches in the 14th Assembly. The Sanjha Morcha led by the PPP is certain it will be a power broker. Insiders say SAD may win 50 seats while its alliance partner BJP is certain to touch the double-digit mark.
Amarinder calls on Governor
Chandigarh: Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh on Monday called on Governor Shivraj Patil at Raj Bhawan, indicating the party is preparing for every eventuality. The PCC chief said it was a routine meeting. Observers said with opinion surveys predicting a close finish, the role of the Governor could become important.
12 seats will elect first-timers
Chandigarh: Every 10th Assembly constituency in the 14th Assembly will be represented by a new face. Even as delimitation saw several sitting legislators moving from one constituency to another, there are at least 12 such segments from where none of the present contestants have been elected before.

The Congress, which won only 22 seats last time, ran an aggressive campaign with Rahul Gandhi leading from the front. Although the exit polls are not very encouraging, the party is hoping to improve its tally substantially with the support of young voters, minorities and most backward classes. The BJP, which got off to a shaky start, is equally confident that it will win more than the 52 seats it had got last time as the upper castes which had shifted allegiance to the BSP then, showed signs of veering towards it in this election.

The Congress has pinned its hopes on favourable results in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur. Despite the exit polls which have predicted a close finish in Punjab, the Congress is confident it will be able to dislodge the BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal government in Punjab. Although the incumbent parties put up a stiff fight, Congress strategists believe it has a distinct advantage over its political rivals because of the growing disenchantment with the Akalis and erosion in the BJP’s support base in urban areas. The Congress also had its share of internal factional battles but this did not deter former Chief Minister and the party’s chief ministerial candidate Amarinder Singh from running an aggressive campaign. Similarly, the Congress is equally hopeful of wresting power from the BJP in Uttarakhand. The BJP, which won a simple majority in the 70-member Assembly in the last elections, faced stiff anti-incumbency and corruption charges in this hill state.

Realising that it’s popularity was on the wane, the party decided to shore up its image by replacing its Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank with BC Khanduri barely a few months before the elections.

Khanduri made a serious attempt to restore the governemnt’s credibility and, to some extent, succeeded in converting the one-sided battle into a tough contest.

However, internal bickering in the party may well prove to be the BJP’s undoing.

The Congress is facing a stiff challenge in Manipur but it is hoping to return to power again as the opposition here is not united.

However, the Congress government in Goa, headed by Digambar Kamat, appears to be in trouble as the BJP-MGP alliance ran an aggressive campaign here and is said to have an edge in this election.





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