The SAD proposes, the BJP endorses. After playing second fiddle to dominant ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party may be now trying to assert itself and blame the other’s failings and policies for the erosion of its vote share in recent parliamentary polls. But the saffron party’s so-called introspection report is mum on how it overlooked the concerns of urban voters even in the departments in its control.
While the SAD lost no time in holding panchayat elections after it romped home second time in a row in the 2012 state elections, the BJP failed to ensure elections to 95 municipal councils even as the local bodies department is one of the four ministries it holds. The Punjab and Haryana high court had asked the state government to clarify why it was not holding the elections to local bodies where the tenure had ended in July last year, since it violates Article 243U of the Constitution.
During the hearing on May 26, Punjab advocate general Ashok Aggarwal submitted in the court that a “conscious decision” was taken on May 28, 2013, to hold the elections based on the census figures of 2011 “but the decision could not be implemented because of the non-availability of these population figures and the electronic voting machines, besides the intervening parliamentary elections”.
However, the Directorate of Census, which works under the union ministry for home affairs, contends that tehsil/ town-wise figures of population were released on May 29 last year. “We first release the state/district-wise data, then for the tehsils and towns. We released the tehsil/town-wise figures at our workstation in Punjabi University, Patiala, in May last year. A copy is sent to the state government and the state election commission. Compiling the population figures municipal-council-wise is not our job,” said a senior official of the directorate.
But Punjab BJP president Kamal Sharma endorses the state government view. “It is not right to divide the electorate as rural and urban voters. The BJP represents not urban population alone but the entire state. The municipal council elections could not be held because the delimitation of wards could only be done on the basis of the census figures, which were unavailable,” said Sharma.
In April last year, the opposition Congress moved the high court to challenge the delimitation of wards for the panchayat elections as “arbitrary”. Punjab advocate general Aggarwal stated in the high court that in the absence of elected representatives in the municipal councils, 95 administrators were appointed to govern the local bodies after their five-year tenure expired in 2013. Sources in the BJP claim the absence of representatives hurt the party’s Lok Sabha poll prospects.
“There were no councillors to hear and redress civic grievances in towns and cities. Administrators called the shots. Neither the local bodies department nor the state election commission bothered to look into the delay,” said a senior BJP leader.
The appointment of administrators itself is under contention. Justice Rajan Gupta had observed: “A question has also arisen inter alia whether administrators can be appointed to administer the municipal councils and whether such appointment would be within the ambit of Article 243U(1) of the Constitution…”
The state had told the court on May 31 that the elections to the 95 councils would be completed in the next 182 days. Of the state’s total municipal limits, 26.4% falls in four corporations, the elections to which were in 2012 after the state polls along with three councils and 26 nagar panchayats.