"Doaba region is different from Malwa. Here all the main parties are equally strong. You can't discount any party here or speak in terms of this wave or that wave," says Vineet, a businessperson in Shahkot town of Jalandhar district.
Doaba is the smallest region in Punjab in terms of seats. It has 23 seats, compared to Malwa with 69 seats and Majha with 25. But in this election, it is also a trickier region to predict than the other two.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is gaining ground due to its promise of 'change'.
The Congress is losing some ground due to anti-incumbency.
Then there is a third trend:
To counter the AAP's rise, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and to some extent the Congress are relying on the influence of individual candidates and the parties' superior organisational strength comprising not just cadres but also current and former sarpanches, municipal councillors, and local-level factions.
The first and the third factors are operating in Doaba as well but the second isn't as clear.
While the Congress is no doubt losing ground in some seats, it is also gaining a bit specifically among Dalit voters due to the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as the chief minister.
The Doaba region has a high concentration of Dalits in Punjab: 42.5 percent in SBS Nagar, 39 percent in Jalandhar, 35 percent in Hoshiarpur, and 34 percent in Kapurthala. In some places like Banga, Phillaur and parts of Jalandhar, the Dalit population is over 50 percent.
However, this shift to the Congress isn't happening across the board, though it may be a bit easier to notice than in Majha and Malwa regions. There are five broad trends that we could notice in the Doaba region.
1. Support for CM Channi Among Dalits
"The MLA has done some work but our vote is in Channi's name. Since he became chief minister, a lot has been done. Our electricity bill has reduced by a good amount which we can now use for our expenses," says Surjit, a tailor in Bhunga in Hoshiarpur district.
Surjit is from the Ravidassia community and will vote in the Sham Chaurasi Assembly constituency.
He adds that Channi becoming chief minister is a significant moment for the community.
We came across a similar sentiment regarding Channi among some voters in Jalandhar.
Balraj, a voter in Banga in SBS Nagar says that he received the government's monthly pension as arrears after Channi took over as CM.
"I received a very good amount as it came together. When Captain was the CM, the pension wasn't paid for a long time," he says.
A number of voters in Chabbewal constituency also praised Channi but some of them also mentioned the local MLA.
"Many of us feel Channi should get another chance. If he could do so much in three months, he may able to do much more if he gets a full term."Joginder, a voter in Chabbewal
His friend, sitting with him near the auto stand adds, "It's not just Channi, Dr Raj has worked hard in the area.
However, this support for Channi isn't uniform, even among Ravidassia voters. A number of them also voiced support for other parties in the Doaba region, which we'll mention below.
2. Resilience of SAD and BSP
The Shiromani Akali Dal seems to still be resilient in Doaba, where it did comparatively better than in Majha in 2017 and it seems to be retaining some hold among Dalit voters due to its alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
In Banga, for instance, the SAD's MLA Dr Sukhwinder Kumar Sukhi seems to have support of his own and the BSP's base is adding to his chances of re-election.
"Akali Dal is gaining because of BSP. It's a much better alliance than with BJP," he adds.
"He (SAD MLA Sukhwinder Kumar) helped people during Corona. He can win again but is facing a tough fight from both Congress and AAP."Sant Ram a voter in Banga.
In Nawanshahr, we met Raj Kamal, a BSP supporter who echoed the positive sentiment about the alliance.
"We are confident that the BSP will win a few seats this time. The alliance will be beneficial for both parties. Even here, Nachhatar Pal (BSP candidate) has a chance of winning," he said.
Among BSP supporters there is a strong sentiment that the party could win a few seats this time, after drawing a blank in the last two Assembly elections.
In Phillaur and Nakodar seats too the SAD-BSP alliance has sizeable support but it is faced with a rising AAP.
3. Rise in Support for AAP
In 2017, AAP had won only two seats in the Doaba region – Bholath in Kapurthala district and Garhshankar in Hoshiarpur district. It had drawn a blank in districts with a higher Dalit population – SBS Nagar and Jalandhar.
AAP's MLA from Bholath Sukhpal Singh Khaira briefly became Leader of Opposition but fell out with the party over what he claimed as 'interference from Delhi'. He's now the Congress candidate from there and engaged in a tough battle with SAD veteran Bibi Jagir Kaur.
The AAP, however, has grown in many other parts of Doaba.
Sukhjit Singh, a shop-keeper we met in Garhdiwala in the Urmar constituency, said that he plans to vote for the AAP as he's upset with both the Congress and SAD.
"There's massive corruption at every level. We have to pay bribes to get even small work done," he said.
However, though the AAP is rising in the seat, it is faced with a strong Congress candidate in Sangat Singh Gilzian, Labour Minister in CM Channi's government.
In Dasuya, too, the AAP's support seems to be rising and the anger against the Congress MLA seemed a bit higher than in Urmar.
"Not much work has been done here. While we have nothing against Channi, this seat we may vote AAP," says Satnam Singh, who runs a juice shop in Dasuya.
We found a similar sentiment in Kartarpur seat of Jalandhar district.
4. Ticket Selection, Infighting Harming Congress
There is no doubt significant support for Channi and it could lead to Congress holding its ground in the region and in all probability increasing its vote share among Dalit voters.
However, it is not clear if the party will be able to win 15 out of 23 seats that it had done last time. It is possible that in terms of seats the party may still have to incur some losses.
A major reason for this has been infighting and poor ticket selection.
In the Nawanshahr seat, sitting Congress MLA Angad Saini is reasonably popular but the party denied him a ticket after his wife MLA from Rae Bareli in UP Aditi Singh joined the BJP. Saini is now contesting as an independent.
While the Congress has also put up a candidate from the Saini community, which is numerically strong in the seat, its chances have been greatly hampered.
Now the seat is witnessing a five way contest between the Congress, BSP, AAP, BJP, and Angad Saini.
"Jhadoo te Nachhattar Pal da fayda hoya," says Ramandeep, a voter in Nawanshahr city, explaining that the row between Congress and Saini will benefit the AAP and BSP's Nachhattar Pal.
A similar thing is happening in the Garhshankar seat, where the Congress denied ticket to its candidate from the last election Nimisha Mehta. She's now joined the BJP and cutting into the Congress' votes in the seats besides gaining a bit due to the slight increase in support for the BJP in the area.
Then in Kapurthala district, the Congress' prospects are being harmed due to infighting.
Senior leader Rana Gurjit Singh is strongly placed in his own seat Kapurthala but he's been opposing the party's official candidates in the other two seats Bholath and Sultanpur Lodhi.
In Sultanpur Lodhi, Rana Gurjit's son Rana Inder Pratap is contesting as an independent and getting sizeable support, mainly at the expense of the Congress and its candidate Navtej Cheema. Some say Inder Pratap may have a better chance than the Congress candidate.
Then in Bholath, Rana Gurjit had called for the Congress candidate Sukhpal Khaira to be expelled from the party and is said to be working against him in the seat.
But Khaira has his own support base in the seat and is battling it out against Bibi Jagir Kaur.
5. BJP Rises in Certain Pockets
"We have 15 votes in our family, the highest among all the households in our area. We're all going to vote for the BJP," says Honey, who works at a mechanic shop in Hoshiarpur.
Honey is from the Ravidassia community and says that the Congress MLA Sunder Sham Arora hasn't done much in the area.
Arora was industries minister in Captain Amarinder Singh's government but didn't make it to CM Channi's Cabinet.
The seat is witnessing a three-way fight between Arora, BJP's Tikshan Sood and AAP's Brahmshankar Jimpa. Support for the BJP is said to have increased in the area in the past few weeks.
"Earlier we thought BJP won't win but now we feel the party has a chance. But it's still close," says Sanjeev Sharma, a voter in Hoshiarpur.
In Mukerian too, BJP's Jangi Lal Mahajan is said to be fighting a strong election.
With a high Upper Caste Hindu population, Hoshiarpur and Mukerian have always had a strong BJP presence. However, support for AAP has also increased in this demographic, including in these two seats.
There has been a state-wide decline of the Congress among Upper Caste Hindu voters. According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey, the Congress secured 48 percent of the non-Dalit Hindu vote in 2017, compared to 22 percent for the SAD-BJP and 23 percent for the AAP.
The support of this crucial section seems to be eroding for the party. The BJP is benefitting but in a limited number of areas but AAP has sizeably grown in this section.
One seat where the BJP seems to be gaining due to this is Jalandhar Central, where the party's candidate Manoranjan Kalia has a good image and there's some resentment against the Congress MLA.
The Big Picture
Overall, Doaba is a tougher area to predict than Majha and Malwa, where the pattern seems clearer.
In Doaba, the Congress is no doubt losing ground among Upper Caste Hindu voters but it is gaining among Dalit voters. A majority of Dalits in Doaba are from the Ravidasi-Ad Dharmi-Chamar cluster of which CM Channi's Ramdasia community is also a part.
However, the SAD-BSP alliance and infighting and negativity against a few candidates may constrain Congress.
The AAP is rising, especially among Upper Caste Hindu voters. It may increase its seat tally in Doaba but it isn't clear how much the rise is going to be.
Finally, the BJP, too, seems to be making an impact but it has a winning chance only in a handful of seats.