The civic elections usually go in favour of the ruling party, but the verdict in the municipal corporations and councils has worrying signs for the opposition Congress not just in the numbers tally but in its very relevance as the main alternative. In a rerun of the Lok Sabha elections when the Aam Aadmi Party had sliced away a major chunk of anti-incumbency votes, it is independents -- by choice or rebellion --who have emerged as an alternative to the ruling allies.
The double-digit wins in five municipal corporations on Thursday with an overall tally of 68 may not appear bad for the party. But the warning signs are in the sub-text. The Congress tally is just a few notches above the tally of independents (64) in six corporations and three byelections’ results announced on Thursday. In Moga municipal corporation, 17 wards elected independent candidates and the Congress won just one. In Badals’ stronghold Bathinda too, independents made hay, bagging 11 wards, one above the Congress tally of 10.
DUCK IN 53 COUNCILS
The party had lost the battle in 43 municipal councils and nagar panchayats even before the polls where it did not have a single candidate contesting on the party symbol. Little wonder then that it failed to open its account in 53 councils. It contested on just 55% wards – 1,125 out of a total of 2,044 in municipal councils and nagar panchayats.
The Congress symbol even went abegging in several wards as candidates preferred going solo, and for a reason. Independents clinched more than double the number of seats than Congress in the councils.
ALARM BELLS FOR MLAs
But the bad news is for the party, not just Punjab Congress chief Partap Bajwa. The Congress lost both wards of the Patiala municipal corporation that went to bypolls. A bastion of the erstwhile royals, Patiala was reclaimed by Preneet Kaur, wife of former Punjab CM and deputy leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Capt Amarinder Singh, in a bypoll last year after the latter was elected to Parliament. The drubbing comes a day after the party failed to open its account in Samana municipal council, the other seat of prestige for the royals in their home district.
The poor show should also worry the party’s sitting MLAs as the party has fared poorly in a majority of assembly segments it holds, including Ferozepur, Barnala and Kapurthala. Even heavyweights took a beating in Majha, making it the party’s Waterloo in the civic polls with not a single council in its kitty.
Battling low morale and government muscle, the party’s prospects were further undone by factional war. In Bathinda, former MLA Harminder Jassi, appointed by Bajwa, called the shots and literally blew up chances of a pact with Manpreet Badal-led People’s Party of Punjab.
In Pathankot, the factional war was between Bajwa appointee Anil Vij and Amarinder loyalist, former MLA Raman Behl. The infighting between Bajwa and MLA Ashwani Sekhri cost the Congress Batala where it scored a duck. In Faridkot, denied a free say, both sitting and former MLAs backed independent candidates.
Amid the bickering, the unity lesson came from Ludhiana district where the Congress has bagged the highest number of 37 wards and won two councils.
The party also did well in Nawanshahr and Phillaur in Doaba where there were no warring factions and in segments where sitting or former MLAs had their say and put up a fight, such as Gidderbaha, Khanna, Malerkotla and Lehragaga.
BAJWA SILENT, CAPT CAUTIONS
While Bajwa did not make any statement, nor did he answer calls after the verdict, Amarinder sounded a note of caution.
In a press statement, Amarinder said, “A large number of independent candidates winning the elections are a clear signal that the Congress cannot afford any complacency in the hope that it can ride to power merely on anti-incumbency against the ruling alliance. It needs to work much harder from now on as people at several places have expressed their anger by voting against the ruling alliance candidates. But instead of voting for the Congress as the principal opposition party, they voted for the independents in a substantially large number of places.” email@example.com