THE stage is all set for 6.13 lakh voters of Chandigarh to decide the fate of 17 candidates, with the city going to polls on Thursday. Three-time Congress MP Pawan Kumar Bansal is facing a host of newcomers in the fray, two of them Mumbai-based actors. It is being projected as a choice between the “locals’’ and “outsiders”, and claims of development versus charges of lack of it.
Preparations were in full swing on Wednesday, with the candidates and their supporters making the last-ditch effort to woo the voters. While the campaigning ended on Tuesday, the candidates interacted with groups of people at several places. Visits to religious places were also made by some.
Bansal is eying a fourth consecutive term and fifth overall in the Lok Sabha. Facing him is the BJP’s Kirron Kher, who was picked up over three local BJP leaders, causing dissension in the party. Another actor and Aam Aadmi Party candidate Gulkirat Kaur Panag is also in the fray. Jannat Jahan is the BSP candidate. While the JD(U) has fielded Surinder Bhardwaj, the CPI (ML) has put up Kanwaljit Singh. There are also eight Independent candidates.
Interestingly, Kher and Panag will not be able to vote for themselves as they are not registered voters of Chandigarh.
FACTORS IN PLAY
The campaign over the past few weeks has witnessed much debate over “locals” versus “outsiders”. The Congress and BSP have targeted both Kirron Kher and Gul Panag, stating that since they are based in Mumbai, they would not be easily available to city residents. Pawan Kumar Bansal is being projected as the “man next door” and this was the tagline of his campaign. His supporters contend that he is always available in the city. A similar claim has been made by Jannat Jahan, who says that she has spent her entire life here.
Another issue that dominated the campaign was development. With Bansal facing anti-incumbency after 15 years as the city’s MP, the Congress is highlighting the work that he has done. Bansal claims that he has brought overall development in all spheres, whether healthcare, education, transport or increasing the budgetary allocation for the city. The opposition parties allege that there has been no development, and no new projects started in the city.
The rail bribery scam also figured in the campaign. The BJP distributed booklets containing newspaper clippings of media reports on the issue. Bansal made clarifications at all forums that he was given a clean chit by the CBI.
There are internal problems in the political parties that could damage the candidates. In the BJP, three local leaders were ignored for the ticket despite hectic lobbying. Kher’s nomination was met with widespread protest. The Congress witnessed dissension before the ticket was given to Bansal. The AAP had about 200 aspirants for the ticket.
The BJP is banking on the “Modi wave’’ to garner votes.
HOW IS THIS ELECTION DIFFERENT?
This is for the first time that women candidates have been fielded by mainstream parties like the BJP and the BSP. There is also Gul Panag of the Aam Admi Party. Never before has a Lok Sabha election in Chandigarh seen three women as main contenders. In the past, since the Lok Sabha elections in 1967, only 13 women had contested, mostly as Independents.
Some of the old war horses are missing from the electoral fray. They include the BJP’s Harmohan Dhawan, who had been contesting elections since 1984 as a candidate of different parties, and former BJP MP Satya Pal Jain, who had been contesting since 1991. Bansal, Dhawan and Jain have contested five elections against each other. This time both Jain and Dhawan are out; instead they are seeking votes for Kher.
The entry of the Aam Aadmi Party has added another dimension to the election. Both the Congress and BJP are trying to assess who AAP is going to damage more. Congress leaders believe that the effect of anti-incumbency would be diluted as AAP would cut into votes which would otherwise have gone to the BJP.