From infighting over the roster system for categorising village panchayats as reserved, MLAs holding press conferences against government machinery to the Punjab and Haryana High Court snubbing the government over rejection of nomination papers of candidates and finally the cases of violence, rigging and excesses, the panchayat elections in the state remained mired in controversies.
The Congress may be celebrating a near total clean sweep in the panchayat polls, the opposition parties, including the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), are already accusing the government of murdering the democracy.
From the very start, when rural development department changed the roster system for reservation, Congressmen, as well as the opposition parties, raised a hue and cry. Several Congress legislators did not mince words while accusing Rural Development minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa of pandering to the opposition and helping them categorising several village as per their demands.
Only a few hours before the elections, party MLAs, including Satkar Kaur and Sangat Singh Gilzian, went to the extent of accusing their respective district administrative officials of helping the opposition parties.
As if the controversies were not enough, the High Court directed the state government to review the nomination papers, rejected by the government of several aspiring candidates. “There were not only the Akali-supported candidates, but several Congress-backed leaders also who moved the HC. This shows how the the party’s own leaders and workers were upset. The elections seem to have harmed the ruling party more than it helped ahead of Lok Sabha election. This was the reason that a group of party leaders were in favour of getting the election postponed,” said a Congress leader on the condition of anonymity.
The ruling dispensation came for a severe criticism as the use of liquor during election could not be checked. Videos and pictures of drunk people having a field day went viral on social media ahead of the election. “The party that came to power on the promise of shunning narcotics could not check the use of liquor. The State Election Commission (SEC) proved really ineffective. We used to criticise the Akalis during their regime. But look at us,” said another Congress leader.
To cap it all, the state witnessed violence, in which an elderly person lost his life and attempts of booth capturing were reported from across the state. The SEC had to order repolling in several parts. In yet another embarrassment for the government, Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal’s vote in former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s native Badal village was polled fraudulently, in his absence. Manpreet was in Chandigarh and could not visit his village. In the evening, his brother-in-law learnt that his vote was polled.
Punjab Congress president, Sunil Kumar Jakhar, however, said the election was fair and transparent. “There was no booth capturing and no violence. Akalis fought amongst themselves. They should look within before levelling allegations against us. They can go on blaming others. The clean sweep by the Congress is people’s confidence in the party. The opposition can witness a similar response in coming months during Lok Sabha election,” he said.