OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

An estimated 67 per cent votes were recorded in Tuesday’s election in Punjab to choose a new legislature, the Election Commission has said. The CNN-IBN exit poll projects dead heat between the Congress and the Akali-BJP combine with both projected to win an equal number of seats in the 115-member Punjab Assembly. Two other news channels predicted a majority for the Akali Dal-BJP combine. Surveys conducted by Star News and NDTV gave a simple majority to the Akali Dal-BJP alliance with similar projections centering around 60 and 50 seats to Akali Dal-BJP and the Congress respectively. Offstumped examines the issues underlying the near dead heat political battle in Punjab.

In the last leg of campaigning, both Vajpayee and leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha LK Advani, sought to lambast PM Manmohan Singh for raising a bogey of fear of revival of militancy in Punjab in case the Akalis were voted to power. That the gentleman Prime Minister in his home state of Punjab (or rather foster state, the PM elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam) could not speak to any core issues and had to resort to fear mongering goes to show the campaign in Punjab has been shorn of real compelling issues.  Populism and personality clashes have marked the run up to the election. Amarinder Singh and Prakash Singh Badal, bitter political rivals in Punjab, had virtually hijacked the assembly election campaign in a strong war of words. And then you had the Navjot Singh Sindhu just in time electioneering drama in Amritsar thanks to the Supreme Court giving him a long lease of life outside the prison bars pending his legal challenge. That the only issue worth debating in Amritsar was Sidhu’s performing a Havan a hindu ritual in apparent contradiction to Sikh tenets sums up how the lok sabha battle is shaping up there.

While all this might look dismal on the face of it, there is more here at work than meets the eyes. Badal with his punch line of “Commitment to change the future of Punjab” and Amarinder with his “Prosperous and modern Punjab” offer a glimpse of politics shorn of basic issues of entitlement, deprivation and social justice. One hears everything in the populist rhetoric in Punjab except for those two magic words that echo in almost every other election in India – “Social Justice”.

So how come a Badal who talks of providing world-class education system — quality schools, colleges and information technology institutes, a commitment on 24-hour power to all sectors, world-class roads, employment for the youth and better sports facilities, besides world-class healthcare and promotion of trade and industry has barely anything to clamour for on the Social Justice question ?

Amarinder Singh who promised to maintain the speed and momentum of development, to bring more investment, more jobs, better education avenues, empowerment of youth, transparency in admission and recruitment, welfare of the disadvantaged sections, public safety and modern lifestyle also assiduosly avoided uttering the S-phrase.

Offstumped Bottomline: So while we may dismiss Punjab for its personality driven politics shorn of issues there is also reason to celebrate that in a state that celebrated individual industy and enterprise, a state that was at the forefront of the green revolution and became the bread basket of the nation, politics has moved beyond last century’s rhetoric of deprivation and entitlement. There may afterall be some hope for a Right of Center Agenda in states like Punjab once we get past the ego clashes and the identity agendas.

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