Witnessing high-voltage campaigning for the relatively low-profile civic body polls, the industrial town of Phagwara is set for an intriguing contest with the major players - BJP and Congress - hit by infighting. Rebel groups from either side have fielded independent candidates against official nominees of the parties.
The BJP, which is contesting 33 of the 50 seats with the rest being contested by its partner SAD, is dreaming of the first mayor of the city being from its quota (earlier the c ivic body was a municipal council), the rivalry between the groups led by local MLA and chief parliamentary secretary (CPS) Som Parkash and Union minister Vijay Sampla could play spoilsport for it.
Even as the Som Parkash group is contesting a major share of the seats from BJP quota, sources said the group was not ready to bear the Sampla group anymore and, thus, fielded independent candidates in some wards being contested on BJP ticket by the Union minister's faction.
The Sampla group also enjoys the support of former minister and senior local leader Chaudhary Swarna Ram, who is counted as the first Dalit face of the BJP in Punjab.
The fight within the saffron party has become so intense that senior leaders, including Sampla and Som Parkash, are going door to door with candidates. The Sampla, whose supporters are fighting at least 10 seats, have scheduled programmes over the next five days.
The BJP high command is aware that infighting can spoil the chances of the party, and state unit chief Kamal Sharma has tried to bring about some peace. On the ground, however, the army remains divided.
For the ruling alliance, the sigh of relief is the fact that the SAD is united and is offering sincere support for the BJP here, unlike in many other towns.
In the Congress, the infighting is between groups led by Balbir Raja Sodhi and former minister Joginder Singh Mann. The Congress' factionalism at the state level between state unit chief Partap Singh Bajwa and Amritsar MP Capt Amarinder Singh has made it worse for the party.
Mann, who was general secretary of the PPCC, has already resigned from the post for not accommodating two of loyalists in the list of candidates.
"Yes, there were some problems when our senior leadership from Chandigarh made two changes in the list approved by local consensus; but that anger seems to be over now," claimed Congress in-charge for the polls Sukhpal Singh Khaira. . "The SAD-BJP alliance has ruined this town during its rule, and you will see Congress scripting history here," he added.
However, the ruling alliance is boasting of providing corporation status to Phagwara as a prime achievement. "Projects worth more than Rs 300 crore have been made fully operational in the town in the past three years," said Som Parkash. The claims ring hollow when one goes around the town. firstname.lastname@example.org
As all the major cities are connected with Phagwara, commuters going to Nawanshahr, Hoshiarpur, Chandigarh, Banga and Nakodar have to pass through here, due to which traffic always remains a big problem. Long jams are routine on main highways. Authorities have failed to make proper utilisation of the bus stand as buses usually ferry passengers from the highway. Also, as all the major markets of Phagwara have been established in narrow streets, parking remains messy
Sewerage and water
With the upgrade of the municipal council to corporation status in 2011, many areas have been added in the municipal limits. But residents of these areas are still awaiting a proper sewerage and water supply system. Just before the Lok Sabha polls last year, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had laid the foundation on February 28, 2014, for sewerage and had announced a water supply line in 16 colonies. Not a single brick has been laid after that.
The MC has failed to keep a check on encroachments in the city markets in which shopkeepers and vendors have illegally occupied road space. The affected areas include Banga Road, Cinema Road, Sarai Road and other streets having major markets.
Sudden rise in crime, including murder and snatching, has created panic among the residents on many occasions. As many as five major robberies have occurred within the past two months in Phagwara, whereas notorious gangster Sukha Kahlon was also murdered in police custody in broad daylight on the National Highway here.
When contacted, MC executive officer Adarsh Kumar projects worth Rs 189 crore had been approved by the government for 100% sewerage and water supply.
"We have also selected land to construct a multi-level parking on Banga Road, and are awaiting approval," he added.
He said authorities were also trying to tie up with a private firm to construct an elevated road from Hargobind Nagar to Hoshiarpur Chowk instead of an earth-filled flyover; to provide parking space under the pillars.
TOTAL WARDS 50
Reserved for women 12
Reserved for SC 8
Reserved for SC women 5
Reserved for BC 2
Total voters 88,306
Male voters 46,854
Female voters 41,452
Candidates in fray 169
5 BIG FIGHTS
Ward 3: SAD candidate and city unit president Surinder Singh Walia versus Congress' Kuldeep Singh Saini
Ward 4: BJP candidate Beera Ram versus Congress nominee Darshan Lal
Ward 5: Congress candidate is its city unit chief Sanjeev Bugga, versus SAD's Gurparsad Bagga
Ward 10: BJP candidate Om Parkash Bittu, MLA Som Parkash's personal assistant, is taking on incumbent councillor and BSP candidate Tejpal Basra
Ward 44: BJP candidate is former minister Chaudhary Swarna Ram's son Manjeet Chaudhary, facing Congress candidate Rohit Sharma
I expect from my new councillor that he should ensure cleanliness and maintain the city's greenery by planting more trees.
Prakshi Khanna, first-time voter
I have only one expectation, that my councillor should be not be corrupt! He should spend funds faithfully on development.
Sukhmeet Singh, businessman
My councillor should ensure safety of girls and decrease in crime. It's because of the fear of crime that parents don't allow girls to go out.
Navneet Pal Kaur, teacher
The MC should ensure a proper management system in the city to control traffic. The buses should utilise the bus stand.
Dr Rajbir Singh, dentist