Chandigarh poll result no game changer for Punjab polls, but can’t be discounted
Tuesday’s unprecedented win of the BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal combine in the Chandigarh municipal corporation elections has, for once, debunked the potency of the demonetisation issue as an electoral trump card.india Updated: Dec 21, 2016 07:18 IST
In politically-charged times, even the local elections can be a straw in the wind.
Tuesday’s unprecedented win of the BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal combine in the Chandigarh municipal corporation elections has, for once, debunked the potency of the demonetisation issue as an electoral trump card.
Six weeks after the NDA government’s tectonically disruptive gambit, the civic poll outcome belied poll pundits’ predictions and Congress’ calculations, overestimating the public ire against the currency switch. Rather, the BJP-led alliance romped home to its successive second victory with a bigger score, notching up 21 seats in the 26-member House. The Congress could win only four.
Predictably, the saffron party triumphantly interpreted the verdict as “a ringing endorsement” of the Modi-scripted ‘notebandi’. In reality, however, it reflected the popular rejection of demonetisation as an overriding issue in poll sweepstakes.
But, the real significance of the Chandigarh outcome lies in its impact on the battle of perception in Punjab, which goes to the high-stake assembly polls in six weeks or so.
Since its inception in 1996, the Chandigarh polls have been a close precursor to the Punjab assembly elections. A microcosm of Punjabi milieu and mood, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana has unfailingly been a barometer of political undercurrents in the border state.
In that sense, the Chandigarh victory has warmed the cockles of Akali-BJP combine which, faced with two-term anti-incumbency ire, is fighting with its back to the wall in a three-corner fight against the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party. Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal was swift in calling it “a trailer of the hat-trick in the making in Punjab”.
Conversely, a stunning drubbing in the Union Territory means alarm bells for both the Congress and AAP in Punjab.
Though AAP didn’t contest the Chandigarh polls as it had abandoned the city after a guest appearance of its celebrity face Gul Panag in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the party’s Punjab pitch against demonetisation is far more shriller than that of Congress. That’s the miscalculation that proved costly for Congress in Chandigarh.
Led by a scam-tainted former union Railways ministers Pawan Bansal, the Congress pegged its entire campaign to demonetisation, smug in the belief that long queues of harried cash-seekers would automatically lead to electoral windfall. In doing so, it overlooked the local issues that actually resonated with voters.
The BJP, in contrast, tactfully skirted demonetisation and led an inspired campaign woven around the promises of better governance — a plank bolstered by the incumbent BJP MP Kirron Kher’s impressive interventions in the city’s administration.
In the context of Punjab polls, the Chandigarh win has surely come as a shot in the arm for SAD-BJP, but to call it a game changer will be an overstatement. But, it has demonstrated that counting on demonetisation for electoral dividends could be a risky gambit.