It was the Chandigarh Congress party’s worst performance in the civic polls since 1996, when the party had just one councillor in the then 20-member House. Following the poll debacle, Pardeep Chhabra tendered his resignation from the post of party president.
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He said, “I own moral responsibility for the party’s defeat under my leadership and submit my resignation as chief of the Chandigarh Territorial Congress Committee.” While this time the Congress lost to a BJP campaign centred on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in 1996, Modi was the BJP’s Chandigarh in-charge.
Although the Congress’s vote share did not drop dramatically — it got 33.57 per cent vote share as compared to 34.11 per cent in 2011 — the party lost all but one seats in the colonies that were once considered its stronghold. On the other hand, BJP’s vote share rose sharply from 28.16 per cent last time to 42.98 per cent.
Winning just four seats this time, Congress leaders cried foul and sought a repoll, alleging that the BJP misused official machinery.A section of the party, however, has put the blame on factionalism and lack of organised campaigning.
For city Congress chief Pardeep Chhabra, it was a twin blow. This was the first election that the party contested under his leadership. He had fielded his wife Ritu Chhabra from ward 3 from where he has elected the councillor for three consecutive terms. She lost to BJP candidate Ravi Kant Sharma, a first-time contestant, by 417 votes. “It is a shocking verdict.” he said.
Despite the public posturing for a repoll, some partymen said the reasons for defeat were internal.
Chandermukhi Sharma, a former councillor, who was denied a ticket this time, said: “The reasons for defeat of the Congress are corruption and wrong distribution of tickets. The impact of demonetisation was felt everywhere except in Chandigarh. There was no hierarchy. There was no collective leadership and none of the senior leaders were consulted. There was no manifesto committee, no campaign committee. If the EVMs were rigged, how did four Congress candidates win. Was it by mistake?”
Sharma owes allegiance to the Manish Tewari faction in the Congress. Candidates who had Tewari’s backing were not given tickets by the Congress. Party Punjab affairs in-charge Asha Kumari, in a meeting with Chandigarh Congress workers had said Tewari has no role to play in Chandigarh.
Sharma’s brother Suraj Mukhi Sharma contested as an Independent and polled 1,017 votes from ward 1, where Congress candidate Harmohinder Singh Lucky, a former councillor, lost by 324 votes to first-time BJP contestant Mahesh Inder Singh.
Chhabra, however denied that dissidents cost the party dear. He said they did not poll many votes to cause a dent in Congress votes.
This is the first time after its 1996 defeat that Congress has lost the civic elections. It won the 2001, 2006 and 2011 elections. But it had lost its grip over the civic body after members crossed over to the BJP.