He won from Barabanki with a thumping margin of 170,000 votes and for this Punia slogged it out in the scorching summer heat in UP's opium belt, and trudged to each village in the interiors of his sprawling constituency.
A remarkable feature of this unique victory is that he polled more votes than his rivals in every polling station. This very seldom happens in UP, and goes to prove how much effort he put in to earn such a verdict, and that too without any substantial support from the 'weak' Congress.
This stunning single-handed victory is indeed most creditable because Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati was hell-bent on crushing Punia's chances of victory. In 2007, she had sent her minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui on the eve of the assembly election to Punia's constituency to ensure his defeat by any means. They succeeded then.
A flabbergasted and helpless Punia was defeated, but undeterred he fought back valiantly. The Punia punch was unbearably severe compared with the frivolous pyaar ki jhappis which Samajwadi party General Secretary Sanjay Dutt gave Mayawati during the campaign.
When she could not tolerate Sanjay's good-humoured remarks, how would she tolerate Punia's stinging slap?
Punia capped his victory message with ethical advice, publicly given to the CM. 'She should resign!' Among confidants, he resolutely confided, "Ab is ko nahin chodunga (Now I will not spare her)."
Mayawati publicly fretted and fumed. She abused Punia for half an hour at a meeting of Bahujan Samaj party legislators convened soon after the election results were out.
Punia is a suave and amiable man with all-roundadministrative experience. He has lots of friends across the bureaucracy in UP and Delhi. He is resilient, patient, practical and a tenacious fighter.
Little wonder he was very close to Mulayam Singh Yadav during that politician's earlier tenure as UP chief minister. Despite that association with her arch-rival, Mayawati made Punia her principal secretary which made him the de facto CM of UP.
He is the same guy she used to address as 'Punia bhaisaheb'. She had taken him along during her almost clandestine trip to Switzerland in 2003. Of course, that was when their relations were cordial.
Panna Lal Punia is a man who knows too much. What he doesn't know about Mayawati and her secrets is not worth knowing. Now, that very man is determined to take up cudgels against her. Getting wind of Punia's chances of being inducted into the Union ministry, a desperate Mayawati 'threatened' to withdraw support to Manmohan Singh's government!
A bemused yet benevolent Dr Singh temporarily conceded, in view of the 'threat' from his secular 'choti behen (younger sister)', her demand. The ministry formation is over. The euphoria over the Congress victory is gradually settling down. The search for a suitably obedient Congressman as UP's governor is on.
In the meantime, Rahul Gandhi's team is busy planning the grand assault on Mayawati and her government.
Rahul's commanders Kanishka Singh, Jitender Singh, Meenakshi Natarajan, Pankaj Shankar and Digvijay Singh are frantically doing their homework and giving the final touches to Rahul Gandhi's 'Capture UP' strategy.
Leading the pack will be Panna Lal Punia. Rahul Gandhi may justifiably celebrate his victory these days. Soon, the Congress fireworks will begin in Lucknow.