In the nearly one year since it became Punjab’s main Opposition, the Aam Aadmi Party has suffered a series of blows in urban municipal elections, highlighting the gap between its strengths in urban and rural areas. Although most of its 20 assembly seats include both rural and urban pockets, AAP has acknowledged its weakness in urban areas.
The latest blow came this week, when AAP won one of 32 seats it had contested in the 95-seat Ludhiana Municipal Corporation. Its ally, the Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) led by the Bains brothers, won seven seats out of 55 contested. The Congress swept the polls with 62 seats; the SAD-BJP combine was next with 21.
Before this, AAP had drawn a blank in the Amritsar, Jalandhar and Patiala corporation polls, all held after last year’s assembly elections. The Lok Sabha seat of Patiala is one of the four AAP had won in 2014; it has since suspended the MP, Dharamvir Gandhi. In fact, even in the assembly elections, it did not win a single seat among the nine in Patiala, nor any of the 18 in Amritsar and Jalandhar. And in Ludhiana, where the Bains are based, AAP had won only three seats, all rural, while the brothers had won two urban ones. In another key election after AAP emerged the state’s main Opposition, the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll, AAP bagged just 23,000 out of over 8 lakh votes polled.
“We were weak in cities since the beginning,” said Bhagwant Mann, MP and AAP state president. “Our stronghold has been rural areas but we are still contesting polls in cities. If we don’t, people say we are scared. Even in the assembly polls, our strength was in rural seats, not urban… The Lok Sabha polls in 2019 will be totally different.”
In Ludhiana, AAP’s setbacks had begun before the polls when seven of its 39 candidates backed out at the last minute, leaving only 32 who filed their nominations.
The lone AAP winner is Balwinder Kaur, 48. Her seat, ward number 11 in Ludhiana East, was previously held by her husband, Daljit Singh Grewal a.k.a. Bhola, who won as an independent and is now AAP district president. The seat is now reserved for women. Having entered politics for the first time, Balwinder Kaur would not comment why AAP won no other seat in the city, while attributing her win to her husband’s image.
Her husband — who lost the assembly election from Ludhiana East — blamed “rigged” polls. Leader of the Opposition in the assembly Sukhpal Singh Khaira (AAP) said the Congress “looted the polls”. And LIP chief Simarjit Singh Bains said it is “not a defeat for AAP-LIP but a victory for hooliganism of the Congress”.