Led by Captain Amarinder Singh, Congress in Punjab is expected to win a clear majority, with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) making a stunning debut and the Badals suffering a humiliating debacle in Assembly elections, according to a post-poll analysis by Axis-My-India for India Today Group.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's AAP, which had won four of Punjab's 13 Lok Sabha seats back in 2014, turned the Sikh hearthland's bipolar politics into a full-blown triangular contest for state power this year.
Exit polls by Axis-My-India on Thursday forecast the ruling SAD's tally reduced to a single digit in the February vote, the party's worst performance ever. The governing Badals have faced serious accusations of corruption, misgovernance and of involvement in drug trade, charges they stoutly denied.
According to the survey, the Akalis and their ally BJP are likely to crash down to somewhere between four and seven of the 117-seat Assembly. In 2012, the alliance cruised to a second term in a row, winning 68 boroughs together under the leadership of SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Capt Singh's Congress, which secured 46 seats five years ago, is poised to get between 62 and 71 this time, the Axis-My-India analysis predicts. Kejriwal's AAP is projected to sail through 42-51 constituencies successfully.
In terms of vote-share, the exit polls predict 36 per cent for the Punjab Congress, 33.5 per cent for the AAP and 17 per cent for the Akali-BJP coalition.
The Axis-My-India survey was carried out with a sample size of 16,283 across Punjab. Punjab is home to the highest percentage - 31.94 - of the SC population among all states. Scheduled Caste people number around 88.60 lakh of Punjab's total population of around three crore. A sizeable number of SC families, however, still live below the poverty line in the state.
As high as 37 per cent of SC Sikhs and 41 per cent of SC Hindus might have backed the Congress in this year's Punjab elections, according to the caste-wise vote-share scrutinised by Axis-My-India. The AAP is projected to have secured 35 per cent of SC Sikhs and 26 percent of SC Hindu support, the projections show.
With agriculture as the mainstay of the state's economy, a sizeable 37 per cent of farmers might have thrown their weight behind the Congress, as compared to 33 per cent supporting the AAP, Axis-My-India said. The SAD-BJP combine could only manage 18 per cent of farmer support this time, the predictions suggest.
Geographically, 38 per cent of the urban electorate might have voted in favour of Capt Singh's party and 33 per cent for the AAP. In rural Punjab, both the parties were neck-and-neck at 35 per cent, the exit-poll data showed.