Shrill campaign for assembly poll ends in Punjab and Goa
The high-voltage, calumny- filled campaign for the assembly elections in Punjab and Goa, billed as the first major test of the Modi government's popularity post-demonetisation, ended on Thursday.
The gruelling campaign concluded for all the 117 seats in Punjab and 40 of the tiny coastal state of Goa on Thursday evening ahead of the February 4 single-phase polling in the two states where BJP is in power.
It was for the first time in the recent memory that Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who has not been keeping well, did not go campaigning and the task of spearheading the electioneering was left to her heir apparent and deputy Rahul Gandhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah a battery of Union Ministers Including Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar plunged into electioneering for BJP and its allies in the two states.
Punjab, where the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine has been in power over the last decade, saw bitter exchanges between it and two other major contenders for power–Congress and AAP–over drug menace, corruption and law and order.
Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party is contesting assembly elections in both the states, where BJP and Congress have been traditional political rivals, for the first time and is said to be a potential contender for power.
Apart from the drug menace, the contentious SYL canal issue and sacrilege of holy books of Sikhs were among the major issues flagged by the electoral rivals.
The AAP, which had won four Lok Sabha seats in 2014, has plunged into the contest whole-heartedly with Arvind Kejriwal criss-crossing large parts of the state. It has fielded candidates in all the 117 seats and is expected to fare well.
After initial dithering, Rahul Gandhi declared Patiala royal family scion Amarinder Singh the party's chief ministerial face. Amarinder, 74, has already announced it would be his last election.
Apart from Modi and Amit Shah, Parrikar extensively campaigned for BJP. Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and Smriti Irani were among its other star campaigners in Goa.
Kejriwal, too, campaigned in several parts of the state where his party had been doing the ground work for entering the electoral contest for a long time. The contest in Goa, in all probability, will mainly be three-cornered between BJP, Congress and AAP. The new alliance may be able to make it four-cornered in some places.
The BJP is contesting 36 seats and supporting four independents, while Congress has fielded its candidates in 38 seats and is supporting two others, including an independent. AAP nominees are in the fray in 39 seats after the nomination of one of its candidates was rejected.
In Punjab, the death of six people, including children in a car bomb explosion at Maur Mandi in Bathinda has raised the political temperature further with the Akalis and their rivals accusing each other of patronising extremist elements, and warning of a return of terrorism. Tough contest appears on cards for the Lambi seat where Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, 89, is crossing swords with state Congress chief and party's CM face Amarinder Singh.
Badal's son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir is contesting Jalalabad against two sitting MPs Ravneet Singh Bittu (Congress), grandson of late chief minister Beant Singh and comedian-turned-politician Bhagwant Mann.
Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who recently left BJP to join Congress is in the fray for Amritsar East constituency represented in the current assembly by his wife.
In Goa, Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar is facing a four-cornered fight in his constituency of Mandrem which he has been representing for last four terms.