FOLLOWING ITS victories in local body polls in parts of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat, with the demonetisation policy as one of the main campaign planks, the BJP Tuesday recorded a decisive victory in the Chandigarh municipal elections, winning 20 seats in the 26-member civic body.
This time, too, the party described the results as a verdict that mainly endorsed the new cash policy announced on November 8 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which contested in alliance with the BJP, won one seat, giving the BJP-SAD combine a total of 21.
Despite SAD’s poor strike rate — it lost three out of the five seats it contested to the Congress — Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal hailed the victory as “a trendsetter for ensuring the back-to-back victory of the BJP-SAD alliance for a third consecutive term” in Punjab where Assembly elections are to be held in early 2017.
For the Congress, which won the last three civic polls in Chandigarh, it was its most humiliating defeat in the city since 1996. Left with just four seats, the party has demanded a repoll, alleging that the electronic voting machines had been tampered with.
BJP president Amit Shah, who had kicked off the campaign last month asking voters to vote not for local candidates but for Modi, tweeted that the “landslide win in Chandigarh is yet another instance of people reposing their faith in BJP’s development politics and PM Modi’s vision”.
The BJP’s vote-share was 42.98 per cent, a big jump from its 2011 share of 28.16 per cent. The Congress’s 33.57 percent was a small drop from its 34.11 percent in 2011, but that failed to translate into seats.
Hobbled by infighting, and unable to release a manifesto until three days before the election, the Congress, which won in 2001, 2006 and 2011, had campaigned mainly against the difficulties caused to people by the demonetisation move.
“It is a shocking verdict for us. We had received tremendous support from residents. People had resentment against the BJP due to several issues, including demonetisation, stopping of distribution of ration under PDS, etc.,” said Chandigarh Congress chief Pardeep Chhabra.
But the party’s slide in the civic polls has been steady. In 2011, Congress won 11 seats, BJP 10 and SAD two. Four Congress-backed winners switched over to the BJP this year taking the party’s tally to 14 and getting its candidate elected in the annual mayoral elections after nine years.
AAP leaders said the verdict underlined the Congress’s failure to project itself as an alternative to the SAD-BJP combine.
Although SAD, the dominant partner in its alliance with BJP in Punjab, will need to put in a better performance in the Assembly polls, Punjab Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal joined his father in projecting the Chandigarh victory as an indication of things to come. “We are sure of continuing the winning trend in Punjab’s 2017 Assembly polls,” he tweeted.
Buoyed by the victory, BJP chief Shah said in a statement that the verdict indicated the “people’s mood” against Opposition parties and their “politics over demonetisation”.
Shah said the local body results in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat, and the Assembly and Lok Sabha by-elections since November 8 prove that the Opposition is politicising the demonetisation decision.
“In elections held across different parts of the country following demonetisation, people have taught a lesson to the Opposition and conveyed their mood and the direction of politics. The BJP’s unprecedented win in Chandigarh is another example of the people’s faith in Modi’s vision and the party’s politics of performance,” he said.
BJP’s Punjab chief Sanjay Tandon attributed the victory to Modi’s demonetisation drive and “proper planning”.
Top Congress leaders in Delhi admitted that the results have sent “a wrong signal” in Punjab and blamed former Union minister Pawan Kumar Bansal for the “rout”.
For the record, though, the AICC played down the defeat and hit back at the BJP for describing its victory as the people’s “stamp of approval” for the demonetisation policy.
“Congress today won Maharashtra civic polls. Does it mean that people have now given a vote against demonetisation since last week, the Prime Minister had claimed that the first-phase victory in the Maharashtra civic polls was a referendum on demonetisation? Local body elections are fought many times on local issues. Anger against demonetisation and the sins committed will not get washed away by claiming lame-duck victories,” said Randeep Surjewala, who heads the party’s communication department.
However, party leaders opposed to Bansal said that they would try to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi to complain against the way tickets were distributed and the elections managed.