BY VISHAL GULATI
Chandigarh, Feb 17 (IANS) Seeing it as a referendum against the Centre’s new farm laws, the ruling Congress led by Amarinder Singh, a strong advocate for nullifying the ‘draconian’ farm laws, on Wednesday emerged as the largest party in the Punjab civic polls, winning six of the seven municipal corporations, leaving the Akalis, AAP and BJP far behind.
The results have come as a shot in the arm for the Chief Minister with party chief Sunil Jakhar not losing the opportunity to launch the “Capt for 2022” campaign to ensure the party’s return to power in the Assembly polls slated for early next year, under the leadership of Amarinder Singh.
Overwhelmed with the victory, Amarinder Singh said the first major polls to be held since the enactment of the ‘draconian’ farm laws had also underscored people’s angst with the BJP, which was responsible for the anti-farmer legislation with the active support of its then ally, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and the collusion of the ruling AAP in Delhi.
In the final count, the Congress won 1,199 of the 1,815 wards in municipal councils and 281 of the 350 municipal corporation seats, with SAD trailing at 289 and 33, the Bharatiya Janata Party at 38 and 20, and the Aam Aadmi Party at 57 and nine, respectively, while the remaining went largely to independents and the BSP (K) and the CPI winning in 13 and 12 wards, respectively.
The swing in favour of the Congress in comparison with the 2015 municipal corporation elections in Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Moga and Pathankot districts is manifest in the fact that from 11 seats back then, the party’s tally has improved to a whopping 149 now.
Similarly, in the wards, from 356 in 2015, the Congress score has gone up to 1,480.
The Congress won with a clear majority in Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, Abohar, Batala, and Pathankot municipal corporations, while getting the maximum seats in Moga.
It won 49 out of 50 seats in Abohar, 43 in Bathinda, 41 in Hoshiarpur, Batala 35 and 43 in Kapurthala. It made a massive dent in the BJP-dominated Pathankot by winning 37 out of 50 seats.
In Bathinda, the party is set to elect a Congress mayor for the first time in 53 years, Congress leader and Cabinet minister Manpreet Singh Badal said.
The Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency is represented by SAD’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who was the party’s only representative in the central government before quitting in the wake of the passage of the agricultural laws.
Lauding the Akali workers for asserting themselves boldly, SAD spokesman Daljit Singh Cheema said the party has emerged as the principal opposition post the municipal elections despite going it alone for the first time, while the AAP had been completely decimated in the state.
He said SAD candidates gave a tough fight to the Congress across the state with almost all seats witnessing a direct contest between the Congress and SAD.
“The vote share of SAD has also increased in urban areas,” he told the media.
“AAP has secured the number four position in elections to the municipal corporations,” he added.
The former minister said “it seems the civil machinery and Punjab Police has won the day for the Congress along with equal help from the state election commission”.
Refusing to admit its rout, Leader of Opposition and AAP leader Harpal Singh Cheema said it was the first time the party had contested civic polls in the state.
He said the results were a good sign as the party’s base and vote share in urban areas had increased.
He claimed the results showed that AAP would win the forthcoming Punjab Assembly election by a landslide.
Interestingly, Independents, besides the Congress, fared well in the civic body polls and they are holding the key in the case of the Municipal Corporation of Moga where the Congress is short of absolute majority by winning 20 seats. The Independents won 10 seats, SAD 15, AAP four and BJP one seat.
Most of the Independents wooed the voters by supporting the cause of the protesting farmers and with election symbols associated with the farmers.
Congratulating Amarinder Singh, Congress leader Deepender Hooda said the results were an indication of “changing times”. He also took a dig at the BJP saying the results were the ‘Mann ki Baat’ of farmers and youths.
The state unit of the Congress said in a tweet that this was a tight slap on the face of the BJP, SAD and AAP by the people for playing with the feelings of our ‘anndaatas’.
Elections were held in 117 urban local bodies, comprising eight municipal corporations, 109 municipal councils and nagar panchayats on February 14.
Amid allegations of booth capturing and clashes, there was 71.39 per cent of the 39,15,280 electorate polling.
The counting of votes for the Municipal Corporation in Mohali would take place on Thursday after repolling in two booths owing to reports of irregularities.
A total of 9,222 candidates were in the fray for 2,302 wards.
Political observers say these polls just a year ahead of the Assembly elections are a ‘semi-final’ for the Amarinder Singh government that is eyeing a repeat of its victory against the backdrop of the farm laws that have generated a wave of anger against the BJP.
On the eve of the ballot count, a confident Amarinder Singh had termed the allegations of the BJP and AAP on rigging of civic polls as a typical case of crying foul in the face of their imminent defeat in the election.
“It’s a panic reaction to their inevitable wipeout in these polls,” the Chief Minister had said, adding the BJP and AAP, as well as SAD, were all set to be completely trounced in these municipal polls, whose results would be the precursor of worse to come for these parties that have totally lost the confidence and trust of the people.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
BY VISHAL GULATI