CHANDIGARH/PANAJI: Archrivals BJP and Congress will battle it out in the electoral arena when polls are held in Punjab and Goa tomorrow, with Arvind Kejriwal's AAP, debuting in assembly elections in the two states seeking to play a spoilsport for the two major contenders to power.
BJP is in government in Punjab in alliance with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) for two successive terms, while it also helms Goa, despite ally Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party having drifted away just after the announcement of elections to form a three-party combine.
The elections to Punjab and Goa, which will be followed by those in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Manipur, beginning later this month and spilling over to March, are being billed as a major test of BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity post-demonetisation.
In Punjab, 1.98 crore electors are elegible to vote to choose from among 1,145 candidates to elect a 117-member assembly, while 11 lakh voters will decide the fate of 250 nominees for the 40 seats in the tiny coastal state of Goa.
In Punjab, where SAD-BJP alliance has been in power for the past decade, tomorrow's polling will decide the fate of a number of political bigwigs, including 89-year-old Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, seeking a sixth term in office, his old political rival and Congress' CM face Amarinder Singh, who has declared it will be his last election, and Badal's son and deputy Sukhbir. Badar Sr. is locked in a keen battle with Amarinder for the Lambi seat, the pocket borough of the Badals.
Amarinder, the scion of Patiala royal family, is also in the fray from his hometown where ready to give him a run for his money is the former army chief J J Singh of SAD. Stand up comedian and AAP MP from Sangrur, Bhagwant Mann, who is a probable candidate for chief ministership if the party wins the election, is crossing swords with Sukhbir in Jalalabad.
Navjot Singh Sidhu, the voluble cricketer-turned- politician, who quit BJP to join Congress just ahead of the polls, is trying his luck from Amritsar East seat, part of his former parliamentary constituency Amritsar. The other prominent candidates include Congress veteran and former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehragagga), Indian Youth Congress Chief Raja Amarinder Singh Warring (Gidderbaha), Badal's estranged nephew Manpreet Singh Badal on Congress ticket (Bathinda Urban).
Voting will also take place tomorrow for Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, which fell vacant after state Congress chief Amarinder Singh resigned to protest against the Supreme Court order on Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal. Prominent candidates in the fray are BJP's Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina, who is up against Congress' Gurjit Singh Aujla and Aam Aadmi Party's Upkar Singh Sandhu.
Goa, where chief ministership has been as fickle as the loyalties of its political leaders, tomorrow's voting will decide the fate among others of five former CM's, besides incumbent Laxmikant Parsekar. While Ravi Naik, Digambar Kamat, Pratapsinh Rane and Luizinho Faleiro are in the fray as Congress nominees, Churchill Alemao is contesting on NCP ticket.
Interestingly, in Goa, where the BJP is facing a rival in a rebel RSS leader, the party has not projected Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar as CM face and has often hinted at Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's return to the hot seat, apparently to cash in on his enduring popularity in the state.
Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, BJP's pre-poll ally in the last elections, has teamed up with rebel RSS leader Subhash Velingkar's Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM) and Shiv Sena.
In Punjab, Congress is contesting alone in all the 117 seats. Aam Aadmi Party has fielded its candidates in 112 seats, while its ally Lok Insaf Party, led by Ludhiana based Bains brothers, have fielded nominees in five seats. BJP, which is a junior ally in Punjab, is contesting only 23 seats, while SAD has fielded candidates in 94 seats.
In Goa, 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 nomination of one of its candidates was rejected. The newly formed MGP-GSM- Shiv Sena alliance is contesting 28 of the state's 40 seats.