Civic bodies polls — A litmus test for main parties in Punjab

Seen as a semi-final for the Assembly elections scheduled for early 2022, the upcoming municipal polls are being fought separately by all the four political majors in the state this time, reports Rajesh Moudgil

The upcoming high voltage municipal elections in Punjab are seen as an acid test for all the four main political parties, namely, Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Shiromani Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the same would amply indicate their respective standing in the forthcoming general elections scheduled for early next year.

The said elections would be held for 118 urban local bodies including eight municipal corporations and 109 municipal councils and nagar panchayats. The same were originally due to be held in October but had to be put off because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unlike the previous election held in 2015, both, the SAD and BJP are fighting the polls separately this time after the former recently parted ways with BJP-led National democratic alliance (NDA) over the contentious farm laws. In alliance, these two parties had won most of the councils.

The AAP too has announced to contest the elections on its party symbol while the Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) has demanded that the elections be further deferred as a large number of farmers are currently engaged in the protests against farm laws.

In the House of 117, ruling Congress has 77 MLAs, the main opposition party AAP, 20, SAD, 15 seats and BJP, three, while the LIP got two seats.

All hope of win

The ruling Congress is riding high on the farmers’ protest against the farm laws. Its senior leader Raj Kumar Verka, who is also chief spokesperson of the party says that the party had advantages on all fronts. “The AAP has been a leaderless party while the SAD would see voters’ wrath because of several incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib across the state in 2015, which has caused a major dent to this party particularly among the Panth, the party’s key support base’’, he says.

Besides, adds Verka, the SAD’s trucks with NDA and the subsequent support to farm laws initially, would also harm the SAD. “As regards, the BJP, the party which could win only three assembly seats despite an alliance with SAD out of total 117 seats, would be able to win hardly any seats’’, he sums up.

The SAD leader Daljit Singh Cheema, who was education minister in the previous government says his party is confident of win in these polls as people of the state are aware of the mal-practices unleashed by the ruling Congress government. “We have even seen such
unfair practices in the nominations too in which Congress has misused power. If there would be free and fair polls, the SAD would win majority of seats’’, he said. To the question of any impact on poll after parting ways with the BJP, he replied in negative saying that one could see that the BJP which has lost ground over farm laws, has done mere formality to contest these polls.

The BJP leaders but say that the party and its workers are upbeat. The BJP state chief spokespersons Anil Sarin maintains that it was the workers who were very enthusiastic and positive of win as the BJP was contesting on over 70 % seats against about 20 % earlier when it was an ally of SAD. “People have seen the Congress and SAD and also the violence they indulge in, besides the false propaganda about farm laws. People want peace and prosperity in the state, hence high hopes of BJP win’’, he said.

Interestingly enough, led by leader of the opposition Harpal Singh Cheema, all the 20 MLAs of AAP have launched the state-level campaign from Bathinda, the citadel of SAD’s Badals, highlighting their failure for any development in the area. They began their canvassing by sweeping the city streets with broom, the party symbol!

The party also decided to launch the poll campaign from Bathinda on a purpose. Cheema said that it aimed at exposing how local Congress MLA Manpreet Singh Badal had failed to bring any development to the area despite being the state finance minister for the second time. It may be recalled that Manpreet Singh Badal, who is nephew of SAD supremo Parkash Singh Badal, was the SAD MLA in 1995, 1997, 2002 and 2007. He was removed from the post of finance minister in 2007 and expelled from SAD in 2010. He launched his own party People’s Party of Punjab in 2011, though merged it with Congress in 2016.

The AAP media coordinator Digvijay Dhanju said that the AAP has its strong-hold in most of the districts and it has high hopes of win in the ensuing polls for most of its candidates are young and dedicated and well-educated.

Violence mars polls

Even though the polls are a few days away, skirmishes between workers of Congress and SAD have already marred the electioneering in the state.

At least four workers belonging to ruling Congress and opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) were hurt in firing a few days ago when the workers of the two parties clashed with each other in Jalalabad tehsil (Fazilka district) office during the filing of nominations for civil body elections.

The SAD president and former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, a Z-plus protectee — escaped unhurt though the SUV he was travelling in also got caught in the clash. His media adviser Jangveer Singh told newspersons that party chief’s vehicle was damaged in the stone pelting.

He said that the clash began when a mob led by Congress leaders of the area when Sukhbir Singh Badal — who represents Ferozepur Lok Sabha seat — was in the area — a SAD citadel – to oversee filing of the nominations. Jangveer further alleged that while three of the Akali workers were hit by bullets, several others were hurt in stone pelting incident.

However, the Congress leaders including the local Congress MLA Raminder Amla alleged that it was Sukhbir who instigated his works for the clash. According to him, at least one Congress workers was hurt in the firing.

Leaders of both the parties, however, accused workers of the other’s party with carrying fire arms during the election process which led to the clash.

The SAD has thus urged upon the state election commission (SEC) to requisite paramilitary forces so that free and fair polls could be conducted.

Senior SAD leader Daljit Singh Cheema has also written to SEC for conducting videography of entire polling process to avert any attempts of booth capturing or unlawful activities.

Besides demanding a round-the-clock control room to keep abreast with all the reports and be able to act quickly in case of violations of any sort.

Likewise, BJP leader Anil Sarin also took of a delegation to the SEC demanding that the municipal polls be held under the watch of Central police forces.