As the Election Commission of India announced dates for the assembly polls, Punjab is likely to see a five-cornered contest this election, a marked shift from a traditional duel between the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal.
Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur, and Goa will be held between February 10 and March 7 in seven phases with counting of votes on March 10, the Election Commission announced on Saturday.
Punjab has a total of 117 assembly seats.
It is going to be a keenly-watched contest with the Congress, the AAP, the SAD-BSP alliance, and the BJP-PLC-SAD (Sanyukt) battling to form the government in the state, with a probable entry of farmers' front in the form of Sanyukt Samaj Morcha.
Nineteen farmer bodies, which participated in a protest against the Centre's three farm laws, have also declared to test electoral waters.
Whether they contest all assembly seats, it is yet to be seen.
Punjab's political landscape witnessed major changes in the last more than one year with the Shiromani Akali Dal breaking its ties with the BJP over the farm laws issue and stitching a new alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party.
After facing heat over the farm laws, the SAD in September 2020 quit the National Democratic Alliance and Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from the union cabinet.
The SAD in June 2021 formed an alliance with the Mayawati-led BSP under which, the Akalis will fight on 97 seats and BSP on 20 seats.
After the Akali Dal parted ways, the BJP, which used to contest on 23 seats, forged an alliance with former chief minister Amarinder Singh's Punjab Lok Congress and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa-led Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukt).
Amarinder Singh was made to resign as the Chief Minister by the Congress last year over his bitter power tussle with Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu. Later he decided to form his own party.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which is the main opposition party in Punjab, has announced to go alone.
The SAD and the AAP have announced their candidates for the polls. The former has named candidates for over 90 assembly seats while the latter has declared names of 104 contestants.
The Congress is yet to declare any candidate, though deliberations within the party's screening committee are underway.
A decision regarding the seat-sharing arrangement was yet to be made by the BJP-PLC-SAD (Sanyukt).
All the major political parties are trying to woo voters with freebies and other promises.
While the AAP is hard-selling Arvind Kejriwal's Delhi model of governance, it has also made several promises such as 300 units of free power and Rs 1,000 per month to every woman of Punjab.
With its 13-point charter, the Akali Dal has made promises including free power up to 400 units per month for all households, Rs 2,000 per month to women heads of “blue card” holder families (indicating below poverty line), and a Rs 10 per litre reduction in price of diesel for agriculture consumers.
Congress leader Sidhu has promised Rs 2,000 per month for women homemakers, as well as eight free cooking gas cylinders to them every year.
The party has also promised two-wheelers to girls taking admission in colleges and also some cash amount.
Unemployment, drug menace, delivery of justice in the sacrilege incidents, exodus of youth abroad, ballooning debt, and corruption are the major issues this election.
In 2017 Punjab assembly polls, the Congress had ended the SAD-BJP combine's ten-year regime by bagging 77 seats out of the total 117-assembly segments in the state.
The AAP had managed to get 20 seats, the SAD-BJP won 18 seats, and two seats went into the kitty of Lok Insaaf Party (LIP).
The Congress had got 38.5 per cent voting share, Shiromani Akali Dal 25.2 per cent, AAP 23.7 per cent, BJP 5.4 per cent, and BSP 1.5 per cent.
After by-elections at some seats, the Congress at present has 80 seats, AAP 17, SAD 14, BJP 2, LIP 2, while Bholath and Jaito seats remain vacant.