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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Congress sweeps Punjab civic polls; farm law heat singes Akalis, BJP

The BJP’s hopes that a good performance in the urban areas would ease some pressure off it on the laws were dashed.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh |
Updated: February 18, 2021 8:19:29 am
Punjab Municipal election results, local bodies elections Punjab, Punjab election results, SAD BJP Punjab, indian express newsCongress workers celebrating win in Bathinda. (Express photo by Gurmeet Singh)

Amidst widespread support in Punjab for farmers agitating against the new agricultural laws passed by the Centre, the ruling Congress Wednesday recorded a landslide victory in the civic body elections. The party won 1,399 of the 2,165 municipal wards, and six of the eight municipal corporations, with the result of the Mohali corporation postponed for Thursday.

The BJP’s hopes that a good performance in the urban areas would ease some pressure off it on the laws were dashed. Having split from long-time ally Akali Dal, it lost even strongholds like Pathankot, Sujanpur, Batala and Abohar, winning only 49 wards. The Independents, who won from 329 wards, finished second behind the Congress.

The Congress won 1,128 of the 1,815 wards in municipal councils, and 271 of the 350 municipal corporation seats, with the Akali Dal trailing at 252 and 33 respectively, the BJP at 29 and 20, and the AAP at 53 and nine. The remaining went largely to Independents, with the BSP (K) and CPI picking up 13 and 12 wards, respectively.

The polls held on February 14, to eight municipal corporations and 109 municipal councils and nagar panchayats, were the first elections in the state since the farm laws were passed.

The results are a big boost for Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, with the elections seen as “semi-finals” for the Assembly polls due early next year. Singh has walked a tightrope over the laws, supporting the farmers while trying to resolve the deadlock over their demands. The CM hailed the results as a validation of his government’s “development-oriented policies and programmes” and a rejection of the Opposition’s “anti-people actions”. “All these parties shamelessly trampled the rights of farmers, with the clear aim of destroying Punjab,” he said, adding that the Akalis’ and AAP’s “crocodile tears” for farmers had failed to fool voters. “With these results, all these parties have got a foretaste of the things to come in the Assembly elections.”

Soon after the results, PPCC president Sunil Kumar Jakhar gave the slogan ‘Captain for 2022’. “He (Amarinder) has proved that he is the only Captain who can steer the ship of the state in turbulent waters,” Jakhar said.

Finance Minister Manpreet Badal tweeted, “History has been made. Bathinda will get a Congress Mayor for the first time in 53 years.” The Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Badal is the sitting MP from Bathinda.

The results showed that the anger against the farm laws continues to singe the Akali Dal despite it severing its ties with the BJP and giving up a Union Cabinet berth. In a written statement, party spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema claimed the Congress win was due to “State sponsored repression”. “It seems the civil machinery and the Punjab Police have won the day for the Congress along with equal help from the State Election Commission(SEC). Nomination papers of more than 500 SAD candidates alone were rejected along with a couple of hundred of other parties.”

Dinesh Kumar, the organisational secretary of the BJP, said polls should not have been held at a time when BJP candidates could not even campaign freely. Kumar denied the results were a pointer to the Vidhan Sabha polls, while stressing that its tally was just a notch lower than that of the AAP, the main opposition.

AAP MLA and Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema said the party welcomes the “fatwa” issued by the voters of Punjab, while adding that the results showed the party had significantly increased its base in urban areas, despite contesting its first local body elections in the state.

The Congress holds a majority in 87 of the 109 municipal councils after the results. A spokesperson said it would have control eventually over 102 municipal councils as the Independents in 15 civic bodies were with the Congress.

The Akali Dal retained citadels like Majithia, the backyard of senior party leader Bikram Singh Majithia, but neither the party, nor the AAP or the BJP were able to win a majority in any municipal corporation.

With the Mohali result awaited, the only municipal corporation where the Congress did not get a majority Wednesday was Moga.

The AAP did not win a single ward of the 15 in Bhawanigarh, a part of the constituency of the party’s only MP from Punjab, Bhagwant Mann, and of the 23 in AAP MLA Aman Arora’s Sunam seat. The AAP had sent its Delhi face and Punjab co-incharge Raghav Chadha to campaign vociferously.

Among the losers was former BJP minister Tikshan Sood’s wife.

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