A girl, along with her family members, showing indelible ink mark on her finger after casting her vote in the Assembly Elections, at a polling station in Patiala, Punjab, Feb. 4. (Press Trust of India)

February 4, 2017 was the day of reckoning for the top political parties as voters in Punjab decide their choice of representatives to the assembly legislature, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj. – @Siliconeer #Siliconeer #India #PunjabPolls #AAP #AamAadmiParty #ArvindKejriwal #NaMo #NarendraModi @NaMo @Narendramodi #BJP #CongressPartyofIndia #RahulGandhi

The Bharatiya Janata Party in the Center has allied with the incumbent Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) led by 90-year-old Parkash Singh Badal.

Yet the prospects of the BJP-SAD combine are not too immense as Modi’s demonetization impacted its influence on the voters and then there was the loss of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu to the Indian National Congress which as per his self-description was a “homecoming” of sorts.

Much disaffection against the Badal clan during the last ten long years of its rule has indeed pushed the state into a state of abyss.

The multiple layers of anti-incumbency are – deepening drug abuse, economy in shambles, rapid impoverishment of farmers, loss of Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal case in the apex court, widespread corruption in the police and bureaucracy, anti-social elements showing off their political clout to control liquor sale, alcohol outlets mushrooming throughout, and the Badal administration misusing and desecrating religion to further their political ends.

Amplifying matters is the rampant wheeling and dealing activities of the entire Badal clan, comprising the senior Badal (Chief Minister), his son Sukhbir (Deputy Chief Minister), and three other family members — Majithia, Adesh Singh Kairon and Janmeja Singh Sekhon (senior Cabinet Ministers) – who run the state machinery as private property and for the benefit of family and friends, and personal charges faced by Majithia of being involved in the drug syndicate and for indirect association with addiction related deaths in the state.

Once thought of an invincible and five times CM, the senior Badal could be fighting the last electoral battle of his life.

Already facing the twin challenges of corruption and anti-incumbency, he is contending with his archrival, Congress’ Captain Amrinder Singh in his home turf in Lambi who aims to limit his maneuvering capabilities and uproot SAD from the state.

In the Jalalabad constituency, the junior Badal is being given a serious fight by the popular Aam Admi Party (AAP) challenger, Bhagwant Singh Mann, and former Congress Chief Minister Beant Singh’s grandson Ravneet Singh Bittu.

Therefore, it may be said that in all likelihood the real battle is between the Congress and the AAP.

Whether Sidhu will be a force-multiplier for Congress is something only time will tell but for sure the Congress enjoys an equally high profile Punjab Prabandhak Congress Chief Captain Amrinder Singh leading from the front.

An elderly and a disabled woman, both on wheelchairs, coming out after casting their votes at a polling station in Patiala, Punjab, Feb. 4. (Press Trust of India)

For the sake of convenience the state may be regarded as sum of three major regions – Malwa with 69 of 117 seats, Doaba with 23 seats and Majha with 25 seats.

Unarguably Malwa is the crucial area that would more or less decide the ruling power.

Till 2007 it was the SAD that had held sway in this region, then the Congress came to bear much influence, but since 2014 Lok Sabha polls when the AAP opened its account in Punjab and won 4 seats and 30 percent of vote share by denting into the SAD support base, matters have attained a new dynamics.

The Congress definitely enjoys an upper hand at a pan-Punjab level as evident in the crushing defeat of Arun Jaitely of BJP-SAD in the city of Amritsar that falls in the Majha region at the hands of Captain Amrinder Singh who belongs to Patiala in the Malwa region.

Hence with the announcement of Captain as the Congress’ CM candidate and a clear mandate, maximum chances of misgivings or of dissidence within the party cadre may have been quelled.

The party could also bank on the negative new baggage about AAP misrule in Delhi but if this would translate into a sure victory cannot be predicted.

In all eventualities a Congress victory in Punjab would be a huge boost to Rahul Gandhi’s (de-facto President of Congress) image as his party has been thrashed consistently since 2014, barring the Bihar win where factors were too extraneous to take credit for.

It would also set the tone for elections in other states – Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand AND Manipur besides projecting the party as the chief opposition force against the Modi/BJP power.

The Aam Aadmi Party is now the third most significant political party, started with a big bang in 2014. It has gained considerable respect over the years amongst Punjab’s youth.

It has partnered with Bains Brothers’ Lok Insaaf Party though it could face trouble as its star candidate of 2014 polls, Dr Dalijit Singh, the eye surgeon who had won 80,000 votes in Amritsar, has joined the Congress, and Jyoti Mann of Jalandhar who had polled 240,000 votes has also left for SAD.

And with the recent Maur Mandi bomb blast ahead of elections there is a recent charge on the AAP that it is unwittingly providing a platform to extremist, radical Sikh diaspora settled abroad to operate from Punjab by none other than a former top cop, K.P.S. Gill who was instrumental in ending terrorism in the state.

As a new entrant the party is seeking to capitalize the frustration among the youth (about 35 percent of population) of the “bread basket” of India yearns for employment and not for farm subsidies.

The party has been unable to present any plan for course correction but with the lure of promises has tapped into politically inexperienced young nominees to win votes of the people who have hitherto seen the rules of the Congress and SAD in turn.

While some Indian news channels claim an AAP victory for Punjab, the results would be out on March 11. The state of Goa also held for elections, Feb. 4, and analysts predict a hung assembly due to a split verdict between the BJP and AAP for Goa.