Punjab campaign ends, Congress vs SAD-BJP contest on SundayPTI | Chandigarh | Updated: 17-05-2019 19:12 IST | Created: 17-05-2019 18:35 IST
Campaigning ended Friday evening for the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, which saw the Congress and the SAD-BJP combine launching blistering attacks against each other over the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 and the more recent desecration of religious scriptures. In the fray for Sunday's elections are Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar and Aam Aadmi Party's Punjab unit chief Bhagwant Mann.
Two Union ministers, Badal's wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal (Bathinda) and Hardeep Singh Puri (Amritsar), are also in the field of 278 candidates, 24 of them women. Congress heavyweights in the single-phase polling in the state include former Union ministers Manish Tewari (Anandpur Sahib) and Preneet Kaur (Patiala).
In Gurdaspur, BJP candidate Sunny Deol has banked on his star appeal, reminding people of the patriotic characters he has played in films like "Border" and "Gadar". Apart from the 13 Punjab constituencies, polling will also take place in the adjacent union territory of Chandigarh.
BJP MP Kirron Kher is trying to retain the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat in a three-corner contest, which includes former Union ministers Pawan Kumar Bansal (Congress) and Harmohan Dhawan (AAP). On most of the 13 seats, the contest appears to be a direct fight between the Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which surprised many in the 2014 elections by winning four seats, is now trying to keep its flock together. A conglomeration of several political outfits, the Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA) led by AAP rebel Sukhpal Singh Khaira, is also contesting on all 13 seats. It is projecting itself as a third front in the state.
In 2014, the AAP and the SAD had won four seats each, the Congress three and the BJP two. In the last phase of campaigning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah, and Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Smriti Irani held a series of meetings in Punjab.
For the Congress, its chief Rahul Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu came campaigning. Congress leader Sam Pitroda queered the pitch for his party by seemingly trivialising the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, allowing the BJP to latch on to the issue.
Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, in turn, harped on the incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in 2015 when the SAD-BJP combine was in power in the state. One Rahul Gandhi rally was in Bargari, the epicentre of the protests which followed the incidents.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia tried to highlight the AAP's Delhi "governance model" while seeking votes. The Punjab contestants include 10 sitting MPS and nine MLAs.
The Congress, the ruling party in the state, has fielded four sitting MPs from Amritsar, Ludhiana, Gurdaspur and Jalandhar. The BJP replaced its sitting MP and Union minister Vijay Sampla with MLA Som Parkash in Hoshiarpur.
The AAP has again reposed its faith in Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann and Faridkot MP Sadhu Singh. The Akali Dal is trying to regain lost ground. In the 2017 assembly polls, the SAD was relegated to the third spot with just 15 seats out of 117.
Under their seat-sharing arrangement between the two allies, the SAD is contesting on 10 seats and the BJP on three. There are 2,07,81,211 registered voters in Punjab, including 560 identified as transgender.
In adjoining Chandigarh, 36 candidates, including nine women, are contesting. There are 6,46,063 registered voters there, including 21 transgender people. About 17,500 people in the UT are first-time voters.