Punjab civic polls 2015: Six corporations decide today

  • HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Feb 22, 2015 10:05 IST

As six municipal corporations go to polls and three wards in two cities see bypolls in Punjab on Sunday, the key players in the fray are the SAD and BJP, the Congress and the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP). But rebels and independent candidates will hold the key at some places.

The Aam Aadmi Party, which recently swept Delhi, has stayed away from the civic polls. The Congress, facing infighting over leadership in the state, is aiming to strengthen its position at the ground level.

Key issues include shortage of drinking water, bad roads, sewerage, waterlogging, parking problems, heaps of garbage, stray animals and encroachments in markets. Here’s a look at each corporation:

Pathankot’s first mayor from BJP or Congress?
With Pathankot having been upgraded from a council of 32 wards to a corporation having 50 wards, the stakes are high for the three BJP MLAs from Pathankot, Sujanpur and Bhoa as the areas from their constituencies have been added to the corporation.

The BJP has also lost the support of its state ally, SAD, which has fielded its own candidates in 15 wards against the BJP and Congress as the former failed to oblige the SAD in the seat-sharing. All parties are battling rebels, who after a denial of ticket, have decided to contest elections as independents, thus making the fight for both the parties tough in most of the wards.

The 10 expelled leaders who have been served notices from the BJP seem little bothered with the fresh developments.

The Congress, however, is fretting over resignation of senior party leader Raman Bhalla, who is reportedly supporting the rebels contesting as independents already having good hold in their wards. The Congress has now got a breather in the form of former Congress MLA Ashok Sharma who has rejoined the Congress and has been putting his all-out efforts for the Congress candidates. Sharma, who had left the Congress after he was denied the ticket in the last assembly elections, still enjoys popularity in Pathankot.

Factionalism to affect Akali prospects at Moga
With SAD MLA Joginder Pal Jain and his son Akshit Jain and state agriculture Minister Tota Singh and his son Barjinder Singh Brar being at loggerheads, this is likely to affect the prospects of Akali candidates in Moga.

The expulsion of 23 SAD rebels, who having been denied tickets are contesting as independents against the party’s candidates, was initially seen as the right step. But after three days, Barjinder Singh Brar and Joginder Pal Jain were locked in a spat over “misappropriation” of funds amounting to Rs 10 crore. Jain had levelled allegations against Brar at a public meeting that further increased the divide in the warring factions. In retaliation, Barjinder has allegedly been instigating voters against Jain’s candidates. The tension between the Jain and Tota Singh camps has been to such an extent that people fear capturing of the sensitive booths.

The scenario is also not favouable as far as the SAD-BJP alliance is concerned as none of the SAD leaders were seen campaigning for the BJP candidates and vice-versa. It was learnt that the senior SAD leaders had told party workers to ensure the defeat of BJP candidates.

At Phagwara, all eyes will be on BJP
The town was upgraded from a council in 2011 and all eyes will be on the performance of the BJP where two of its top leaders -- local MLA and chief parliamentary secretary Som Parkash and union minister of state Vijay Sampla – are indulged in a cold war.

For the local MLA, the election results will be a stamp on his popularity and will strengthen his claim to a cabinet berth in the possible reshuffle in the near future.

However, a negative outcome would put a question mark on his style of functioning with a section of the BJP led by Sampla and former minister Swarna Ram already terming Som Prakash’s functioning as that of a “dictator”.

The infighting in the BJP is also likely to give an interesting twist to the poll outcome as unlike at other places where the saffron party is fighting with alliance partner SAD after seat-sharing, in Phagwara it’s the BJP versus the independents, supported indirectly by both the factions against each other.

The Congress, meanwhile, failed to come out of the factionalism among two groups led by former minister Joginder Singh and local senior leader Balbir Raja Sodhi. Even as the party incharge for the polls and Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Sukhpal Singh Khaira tried to bring both leaders on a common platform, all such efforts failed to serve the purpose. But despite all such shortcomings, the Congress is set to give a tough fight to the SAD-BJP combine.

Mohali battlelines drawn, independents stand tall
With battlelines clearly drawn, the contesting parties, especially the 88 of the total 190 candidates contesting independently are high on confidence. While the locals expected a contest between the two main parties, the Congress and the SAD-BJP alliance, taking a new turn, independents have emerged as a major threat to both the parties. The issue arose when the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) did not give ticket to those being nominated by Kulwant Singh, who broke away from the party to have his own faction known as the ‘bucket party’. Kulwant had unsuccessfully contested the parliamentary elections from Fatehgarh Sahib in 2014. At least 36 such people got together and have Kulwant as their leader and bucket as the election symbol.

The SAD-BJP alliance, now more than fearing the Congress, is wary of the party rebels who are contesting as independents. Also for Congress, these independents have definitely emerged as a strong opposition. While the Congress has declared its candidates for all 50 wards, the SAD-BJP after much debate declared 17 BJP and 33 SAD candidates.

More than campaigning, the SAD spent time in resolving internal differences and taking care of the rebels. Meanwhile, for Congress, it was local MLA Balbir Sidhu who took the onus on him and went around campaigning for each candidate.

Hoshiarpur to vote for its first corporation
People of Hoshiarpur are going to vote for the first-ever corporation as arch rivals the Congress and the BJP are vying to wrest control of the mayoral seat. The BJP, which ran the erstwhile municipal council for five years with the SAD support, is hoping to retain power but its path is strewn with difficulties ranging from dissidence to anti-incumbency.

The stakes are high for both major parties and the verdict will decide the test of popularity between local Congress MLA Sunder Sham Arora and former BJP minister Tikshan Sud. Though the civic elections are being fought on local issues, like drinking water, sewerage, sanitation, encroachments and parking, the BJP also highlighted other achievements of the ruling party like a new bus stand and an ayurvedic university.

The Congress focused on corruption in the previous local body and drew attention to the bad roads. The results are bound to have a significant bearing on the next assembly elections. The BJP candidate had lagged behind in the town in the previous assembly elections due to people’s anger against the “inefficient” MC.

Low-profile campaign by political parties in Bathinda
Electioneering in the town over the past two weeks has witnessed a low-profile campaign by the political parties which have virtually failed to make election an issue-based one.

Top leaders of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and opposition Congress did not campaign in the town and the candidates were left to fend for themselves. Only senior leaders from the BJP and People’s Party of Punjab campaigned for their candidates.

Low-profile campaign by political parties has raised hopes of those contesting as independent. The independent candidates are making the contest triangular at over a dozen seats and might emerge as the deciding factor in the new urban body house.

In the last MC house, the SAD and BJP had 26 and 14 councillors, respectively, after contesting 28 and 22 seats, respectively, while the Congress had just six councillors and four were independents. The SAD-BJP are contesting in the same proportion this time also while the Congress is contesting on 48 seats and People’s Party of Punjab on three seats.

Meanwhile, amid the cacophony of the poll campaign, the issues affecting the town, such as non-completion of Ring Road, Phase 2, menace of stray cattle and the delay in making a new sewerage line across the railway lines, have not been touched upon during the campaign.

By: Anshu Seth, Ravinder Vasudeva, Jyotsna Jalali, Sachin Sharma, Harpreet Kaur and Vinay Dhingra.

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