The high-octane, 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 of Punjab and 40 of the tiny coastal state of Goa this 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 stumping 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.
Prime Minister Modi held two elections rallies in Jalandhar and Kotkapura in the state where he flagged the issue of threat from Pakistan to seek votes for SAD-BJP combine, which he claim alone could provide a stable government that would guarantee safety and security of the state.
Rahul Gandhi took Congress’ campaign to the pocket boroughs of the ruling Badal clan, including Lambi, Majitha and Jalalabad, to target it over alleged corruption, playing dynastic politics and promoting drugs and mining mafia.
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.
A clutch of AAP leaders including Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, Sanjay Singh and Bhagwant Mann, a potential candidate for chief ministership if the party wins, added heft to the party’s campaign.
Interestingly, in Goa, where the BJP is facing a rival in a rebel RSS leader, the party has not projected incumbent Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar as chief ministerial face and has often hinted at a Manohar Parrikar’s return to the hot seat, apparently to cash in on his enduring popularity in the state.