Residents of Hoshiarpur city are going to vote for the newly created municipal corporation for the first time with archrivals Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party vying to wrest control of the civic body as well as the mayoral seat.
The BJP, which ran the erstwhile municipal council for five years with SAD support, is hoping to retain power but its path is riddled with difficulties ranging from dissidence to anti-incumbency.
Stakes are high for both the parties and the poll verdict will be a test of the popularity of local Congress MLA Sunder Sham Arora and BJP leader and former minister Tikshan Sud. Although the civic body elections are being fought on local issues such as 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 awful condition of roads. The poll results are bound to have a significant bearing on the next assembly elections. The BJP candidate had lagged behind in the city in the previous assembly election due to people’s anger against an inefficient municipal council.
The 50-member new civic body would be tasked with providing civic amenities to an estimated 1.68-lakh population.
The city needs quality roads, adequate parking spaces, clean drinking water, solution to waterlogging, a master plan for drainage, night shelters, improvement of cremation ground and a policy on slums which are mushrooming day by day.
No party or candidate raised the issue of public toilets for women. Residents also want relief from stray cattle whose increasing numbers have reached alarming proportions.
The BJP witnessed some embarrassing moments run-up to the polls when people confronted its candidates for lack of these facilities.
Both the main contending parties are making claims about a clean sweep in the elections but rebels and ‘Corruption Free Hoshiarpur Vikas Manch’ a conglomerate of leaders of smaller parties like AAP and PPP, have made the scene unpredictable.
Barring a few, there are no clear winners leaving all stakeholders cross fingered. SAD expelled the rebels from the party but BJP and Congress leadership made no such move. A number of rebels are very strongly placed in their respective wards.
While Union minister Vijay Sampla, Rajya Sabha member Avinash Rai Khanna and Tikshan Sud campaigned for BJP candidates, Congress campaign was mainly led by Arora. Former MP Mohinder Singh Kaypee, who fought the last parliamentary election from Hoshiarpur canvassed just for a day or two.
Sud managed to get his wife Rakesh elected unopposed from ward 7 but the move did not go down well with a section of the electorate which thought she should have won by contesting. Congress levelled allegation of coercion against the BJP leader but there was talk of friendly match between the two parties. Despite his defeat in the last assembly elections, Sud has remained relevant in the city politics and has virtually ruled the civic body through his protégé Shiv Sood. That is why he also had a share of brickbats the municipal body received for its failings.
The most interesting contest is expected in ward 4, from where Neeti Talwar, wife of Khanna’s political sceretary Sanjiv Talwar is taking on Congress’s Seema Soni. Khanna literally had to fight for this ticket. The ward was reserved for women ostensibly to keep Talwar at bay but he fielded his wife. The next big fight on cards between Khanna and Sud factions is going to be for the mayoral seat. Much would however depend on the performance of Congress, SAD and rebels. Every faction in every party has fielded proxy candidates making the election scene a puzzling affair.
BJP’s win a litmus test of MLA’s popularity
Phagwara will also go to its first municipal corporation polls after the city was upgraded from a municipal council in 2011. All eyes will be on the performance of the BJP as two of its senior leaders — local MLA and chief parliamentary secretary Som Parkash and Union minister of state Vijay Sampla —are fighting a cold war against each other.
For the local MLA, the election results, if it turns out positive, will be a stamp on his popularity and will strengthen his claim to get a cabinet berth in case there is a reshuffle in the Punjab cabinet in near future.
On the other hand, a negative outcome will put a question mark on his style of functioning with a section of BJP led by Sampla and former minister Swarna Ram already terming him as a “dictator”.
Infighting within the BJP may give an interesting twist to the poll outcome since the saffron party is fighting its alliance partner SAD on seat-sharing elsewhere in the state.
During electioneering, the BJP remained on the back foot as opposition tried to corner the ruling dispensation on the issue of poor sewerage in suburbs and lack of basic amenities in the town itself.
The foundation stone of sewerage project laid by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal for 15 wards in the outer areas of the city remained the Congress’ main poll plank since the ruling combine failed to move the project even a single inch.
The Congress failed to come out of factionalism between its two factions, one led by former minister Joginder Singh and other by local leader Balbir Raja Sodhi.
Even as Congress’ election in-charge and party spokesperson Sukhpal Singh Khaira tried to bring both the leader on joint platform, these efforts failed to serve the purpose.
Despite all this, the Congress is set to give a tough fight to the SAD-BJP combine.
Meanwhile, workers of all the parties campaigned in with enthusiasm despite rainfall in the last couple of days. Candidates of all parties made big promises to the residents from delivering on development front to providing basic civic amenities.
Elaborate security arrangements have been put in place for the elections that may witness clashes between the SAD-BJP and Congress groups. The Congress has already anticipated booth capturing by the SAD-BJP combine and have demanded videography of all booths.