Setting a perfect example of political opportunism, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) joined hands with its pan-India rival the Congress to defeat its alliance partner in Punjab the SAD to grab the seat of president and vice-president in the Batala municipal council, the election-results for which were declared on Monday.
The SAD was defeated by just one vote.
The BJP and the SAD had contested the council polls separately winning 11 and 14 seats, respectively, while Independents emerged victorious on 11 seats.
Batala sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) JS Grewal on Monday held a meeting for the election of president and vice-president, during which 17 councillors cast their votes in favour of SAD candidate Balbir Singh Bittu, while 17 voted for BJP candidate Naresh Mahajan. A tie between the SAD and the BJP resulted, with SAD councillor from Ward 8 Rajwant Singh Tony staying away from the proceedings due to some unknown reason.
But, Congress MLA Ashwani Sekhri, an ex-officio member, who had earlier pressed his five councillors to vote for the BJP, cast his vote for Mahajan, defeating the SAD with just one vote.
Besides the defeat, the SAD faced another embarrassment when police barred former MLA and Batala halqa in-charge Lakhbir Singh Lodhinangal from entering the municipal council premises.
However, after a verbal duel with police, he managed to enter the premises, but BJP workers led by district president Suresh Bhatia started raising slogans against the administration, forcing them to drive out Lodhinangal from the premises.
Before going to the elections, Punjab BJP general secretary and former Jalandhar mayor Rakesh Rathour, who reached Batala to oversee the elections, said despite the Congress’ support, the BJP would prefer to sit in the opposition.
But as soon as the elections concluded, he gave the credit of the victory to Sekhri for his support.
Even after the support of majority of his party councillors, Mahajan, who has served as district BJP president from 2007 to 2010 and is said to be a close companion of local bodies minister Anil Joshi, was opposed by district BJP president Suresh Bhatia, but he managed to garner the support of Sekhri, his five councillors and two BJP rebels on Sunday night, and was unanimously elected as president. Sekhri’s supporter and Independent Harinder Pal Singh Kalsi elected as the vice-president.
Accusing the presiding officer of biased, Lodhinagal alleged that before the municipal elections, they had lodged a complaint against Grewal with Gurdaspur deputy commissioner Abhinav Trikha, following which additional deputy commissioner (ADC) Tajinder Pal Singh Sadhu was given the charge of the returning officer.
“Even on Sunday, 14 SAD councillors and I had lodged a complaint with the DC against Grewal. The DC had assured us that only oath taking ceremony would be held on Monday, while the election of president would be postponed. However, he ignored my phone calls, despite my repeated attempts on Monday,” added Lodhinagal.
He claimed: “The entire election proceeding was null and void, as the Punjab and Haryana high court had abstained the MLA from casting his vote in the elections for the president and vice-president. Moreover, my party men had not signed the proceeding register and we would challenge this unlawful election in the court very soon.”