As expected, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) alliance swept the zila parishad and block samiti polls in Punjab, giving no respite to the Congress, which is still licking its wounds after successive defeats in the assembly polls, municipal elections and two assembly byelections.
Sukhbir Singh Badal, SAD president and deputy chief minister, was right on target when he said that Partap Singh Bajwa would taste his first defeat after being appointed the Punjab Congress chief in the May 19 polls.
However, to be fair to Bajwa, no political pundit expected the Congress to do well in the polls under his leadership, considering that he got just around two months to revitalise party workers.
Bajwa may not have been able to infuse fresh life into the party during these polls, but he never missed a chance to highlight "brazen highhandedness" of Akali workers who seemed to have been given a free hand by the police. He also slammed state election commissioner SS Brar for failing to ensure free and fair elections, which witnessed four casualties in their run-up. Though Bajwa complained to Brar that Akalis were forcing a large number of Congress candidates to withdraw from the contest, the latter not only failed to act but also dismissed the allegation as untrue.
The Congress kept raising a hue and cry about the "excesses", but it had no agenda or issues to connect with the rural voters. As a result, defeat was a foregone conclusion.
Among the few positives for the state Congress was forging an alliance with the People's Party of Punjab (PPP) at the local level, paving the way for a potential association in the Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress managed to give a decent fight to the ruling alliance in the Doaba region in the zila parishad and block samiti polls. Doaba, comprising the districts of Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur and Nawanshahr, had been a stronghold of the Congress, but in the 2012 assembly polls, the party won just seven seats out of 23 from the region. The PPP was able to put up a decent show only in Fatehgarh Sahib and Hoshiarpur districts, where it had an electoral adjustment with the Congress.
SAD on top
The massive mandate has tightened the SAD's grip at the grassroots level and made it the hot favourite for the upcoming panchayat elections. While the SAD used to the hilt the advantage of being the party in power, the overwhelming victory appears to be an indicator of the voters' mood across the state.
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal as well as deputy CM Sukhbir Badal tactfully kept themselves away from the high-voltage campaigning (the duo didn't even cast their votes). It was left to the SAD ministers, legislators and halqa incharges to spearhead the campaign in their respective territories and mobilise the party cadre. They rose to the occasion and demonstrated their election-winning skills in what was a sort of preparatory run for the Lok Sabha elections.
With the results coming in till late Tuesday evening, the BJP was ahead on 25 seats out of the 32 it contested in the zila parishad elections.
"I am sure of winning 25-26 seats, and satisfied with the results," said BJP's state unit president Kamal Sharma. In the 2008 zila parishad elections, the saffron party had contested 59 seats but won only 17.
For a change, the BJP had a comfortable seat-sharing arrangement with the SAD. During the previous zila parishad and block samiti polls, workers of the coalition partners had even clashed with each other.
In the block samiti polls, the BJP was ahead on 250 seats out of 330. In the 2008 elections, the party had won only 204 seats out of 454.