Congress sweeps Punjab rural polls, Akalis down, AAP out
The ruling Congress continued its winning streak in Punjab by sweeping elections to 22 zila parishads and 150 panchayat samitis, results of which were declared on Saturday.
The opposition parties drew a blank in some zila parishads, including chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s home turf Patiala, state Congress chief’s parliamentary seat Gurdaspur and stronghold of former ruling family of the Badals Bathinda and Mansa. In others too, the the Congress got a clear lead.
The party got an overwhelming mandate in all panchayat samitis polls too.
Though the Congress has been able to hammer the Akalis and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in a row after coming to power in March last year starting from the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll, municipal body elections and Shahkot assembly bypoll, it had armoured itself for the rural elections by releasing the Justice Ranjit Singh (retd) Commission report on sacrilege and police firing incidents of 2015 and debating it in the Punjab assembly, a day before the polls were announced.
The report set the tone and tenor for the elections by pushing Akalis on the back foot in their own “Panthic” constituency following indictment of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for police firing at Kotkapura and both Badal and son, Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, for Akal Takht pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim in a blasphemy case.
The Akalis lagged behind on Badal’s home turf of Lambi. But in Muktsar district’s Malout, SAD won 13 of 25 block samiti seats, more than Congress tally of eight. The Akalis also trumped the Congress in Majitha, Bikram Singh Majithia’s bastion, where 28 of 32 panchayat samiti zones and all four zones of zila parishad went to the Akalis.
The Akalis can take consolation in the fact that the slide of the principal opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) continued with this election. Contesting each election with diminishing returns, the AAP could muster just a handful of panchayat samiti seats in its kitty.
AAP’s crisis has only deepened with a vertical split in its ranks after the rebellion of Sukhpal Khaira, who had opposed the move to contest these polls.
The elections were marred by allegations of rigging and clashes between the Akalis and Congress workers as Sukhbir brazened it out by throwing open challenges through his “Pol Khol” rallies at Abohar, home turf state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, and Faridkot, where he alleged that Sikh radicals “propped by the Congress were staging a sham protest”. The hardliners too openly opposed the Akalis.
The results will boost Congress morale for the gram panchayat elections likely to be held later this year and 2019 Lok Sabha polls.