By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh, Jan 16: With three-cornered contests on the cards in a majority of the 117 assembly seats in Punjab this time, younger voters are likely to hold the key for the major political parties — the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — for the crucial assembly elections on February 4.
In a population of over 28 million, there are over 19.7 million registered voters in Punjab — 10.4 million males and 9.31million females.
Of the total voters, 53 per cent, or nearly 10.5 million, are young voters, including first-time voters, in the 18-39 age group.
Ironically, the young voters have to choose between ageing leaders who are the chief ministerial faces of two parties — the Akali Dal and the Congress.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is 89 years old. His Congress rival, Amarinder Singh, claims that Badal is actually 94 years old, while he himself will turn 75 in March. The AAP is yet to project its chief ministerial face.
All the four major political parties in the fray are focusing on the younger voters through social media, direct interaction with top leaders and door-to-door campaigns.
“Our focus has been to enroll the maximum number of new voters. Special campaigns were carried out in colleges and other places to register new voters,” Punjab Chief Electoral Officer V.K. Singh said here.
Compared to the straight contest between the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress for the past few decades, Punjab will witness an interesting contest this time with the AAP breathing down the necks of the traditional opponents.
While the ruling alliance is upbeat about securing a third consecutive term, it faces a 10-year anti-incumbency vote. Allegations of corruption, nepotism, encouraging various mafias dealing in drugs, transport, land, sand, liquor and others, are flying thick and fast against the leaders of both parties.
“The Akalis, particularly the ruling Badal family (headed by Parkash Singh Badal), has thrived in the past decade at the cost of the state. People are fed up with their misrule and the mafia that they encouraged,” Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh, who has announced he is fighting his last election, has said.
While rural voters, mostly from an agricultural background in the Green Revolution state, form a substantial vote bank for parties, many of the rural voters are also in the age group of the younger voters.
The four parties have opted for relatively younger leaders on several seats to woo the youth this time.
“The Akalis (who are contesting 94 seats) have their traditional votebank in rural Punjab. The BJP (which is contesting 23 seats) banks mostly on urban votes. The AAP and the Congress have made inroads into the rural vote-bank of the Akalis,” Ajmer Singh, an agriculturist from Sangrur district who closely follows Punjab’s politics, told IANS.
While the AAP was in a stronger position at the ground level around this time last year, the party continues to have a major role to play in next month’s election which could mar the chances of the ruling alliance and the Congress.