In spite of emerging as the single largest group in the Mohali Municipal Corporation with 23 seats — only three short of a majority in the 50-member house — the SAD-BJP combine is facing problem in attracting independents, mainly because of personal issues with SAD halqa in-charge Balwant Singh Ramoowalia.
The newly elected corporation has 13 independent members, of whom as many as 10 have pledged their allegiance to Akali rebel Kulwant Singh’s ‘Azad group’. But there is no love lost between Kulwant Singh and Ramoowalia. In fact, Kulwant rebelled when his loyalists were denied the party ticket, allegedly at Ramoowalia’s instance.
While Kulwant Singh has not spelled out his future line, Ramoowalia has explicitly ruled out seeking support from Kulwant Singh and is banking on division in his group.
Two independent candidates without any affiliation, namely Manjit Sethi and Harvinder Kaur Lang, too, are unlikely to join the SAD owing to Sethi’s differences with Ramoowalia, although both are former Akalis.
Said Sethi, “Even though I’m an Akali member by heart, there is no chance of lending support to SAD as long as Ramoowalia is at the helm of affairs, as he has ruined the party.” Sethi shares a good relationship with both Kulwant Singh and Congress MLA Balbir Sidhu, who met him after the results were declared. Even some Akali leaders met him.
Besides Lang, ‘Azad group’ member Ravinder Singh from ward number 38 is also likely to go with Sethi as they share cordial relations.
Differences arose between Sethi and Ramoowalia following the alleged murder of Sethi’s nephew Amarpreet Singh by nine youths over a petty quarrel over parking space in 2013. Ramoowalia allegedly did not support Sethi in the case and even gave a statement against him.
Meanwhile, Rajni Goyal, who has been elected from ward number 34, on Friday clarified that she was not part of the ‘Azad group’, although her name and photograph featured on posters and newspaper advertisements released by the ‘Azad group’ during the election campaign.
“I contested independently and I am not part of any group. I’ll support whoever is chosen by my family and core group of supporters,” said Goyal, a first-time winner.
On the other hand, Karamjeet Kaur from ward number 48, who was not part of the ‘Azad group’ initially, said that she had joined the group now. The others in the group said that they would support any decision taken by Kulwant Singh, who said that their final decision would be taken after due consideration and might take some time.
In spite of these postures of the independents and the Azad group members, Ramoowalia claimed, “Forming a majority is not a worry for us. We just need three more votes and there are only seven members in Kulwant Singh’s group. From the remaining six, getting the support of three councillors will not be difficult.”
Congress MLA Balbir Singh Sidhu said, “The Congress has 15 votes in the house, including my own as an ex- officio member, and we’re open to seeking support from Kulwant Singh’s group.” The party needs the support of 11 more councillors for a majority.
While the Congress performed poorly in the civic elections held in seven towns across the district, and also all over the state, it managed to win in 14 out of 50 wards in Mohali – thanks to rebellion in the SAD-BJP.
Results of the MC elections showed that the Congress won by a narrow margin in as many as eight wards where both the ‘Azad group’ and SAD-BJP were contesting. Party insiders blame the division of votes between the alliance and its rebel group for the victory of the Congress in these wards. Moreover, the SAD-BJP failed to field their candidates in four wards, two of which were won by the Congress.
In ward number 26, for instance, Congress candidate Kulwinder Kaur Rangi polled 483 votes, only one more than ‘Azad group’ candidate Nirmal Kaur. Both Nirmal and the BJP were contesting in the ward, and the latter polled 378 votes.
Similarly, in ward number 12, Congress candidate Rajinder Singh Rana won by a mere 17 votes from his SAD opponent Avtar Singh Walia. In the same ward, ‘Azad group’ candidate Manmohan Kaur polled 227 votes. In ward number 7, Kulwant Kaur of the Congress polled 311 votes, 43 more than Ranjit Kaur of the ‘Azad group’, while BJP candidate Anita polled 217 votes.
In ward number 2, Congress candidate Narain Singh Sidhu won by only 52 votes from his SAD opponent Dharam Singh, who polled 308 votes. The ‘Azad group’ candidate in the ward polled 125 votes.
In ward number 22, the Congress polled 510 votes, while the SAD candidate polled 456 votes. The third contestant, an ‘Azad group’ candidate, polled 277 votes. In ward number 45, Congress candidate Surinder Singh won by 47 votes and polled 538 votes. The SAD candidate and ‘Azad group’ candidate from the ward polled 491 and 478 votes respectively. In wards 3 and 19, the Congress won by a significant margin but the SAD-BJP and ‘Azad group’ candidates together polled much more than Congress.
“In all these wards, Congress won only because of competition between SAD-BJP and the ‘Azad group’, as their candidates cut into each others’ vote shares. It would not have happened if their was no rebellion, and SAD-BJP would have comfortably won,” claimed a SAD leader.
While the Congress was contesting in all 50 wards, the BJP-SAD managed to field candidates in only 46 wards, even there was dispute between BJP and SAD over seat sharing and in one of the wards, both of them fielded their candidates. In the remaining four wards, either the nomination of the SAD-BJP candidate was rejected, or the candidate failed to file nomination on time, giving advantage to Congress as it won in two of these wards.