Akali-BJP victory in Chandigarh is not a sign of things to come. Here's why
The BJP and its ally in Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), are trying to play up their victory in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation polls as the success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's model of good governance. They are also trying to pass it off as people accepting Modi's narrative on a cashless economy and demonetisation.
However, the results cannot be seen as a precursor to the forthcoming Assembly polls in either Punjab or Uttar Pradesh.
The SAD-BJP combine, particularly, will try to send the message to Punjab's hinterland that all is well with Modi at the helm of affairs at the Centre and the alliance in the state. But what remains to be seen is that how many people buy the argument, given the fact that rural Punjab has been amongst the worst hit by the demonetisation.
The alliance won 21 of the 26 seats contested (BJP 20/22, SAD 1/4), while the Congress was reduced to a paltry four seats. One seat was won by an independent, who was a BJP rebel.
This is the best performance by the BJP and the worst by the Congress since the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation came into existence two decades ago. The BJP's earlier best performance was in 1996, when it had won 13 seats.
This time, the BSP, which contested 17 seats, and Left candidates, who contested as independents, failed to open their accounts. In 2011 and 2006, the BSP had won two and one seat, respectively.
The size of the setback to the Congress can be envisaged from the fact that four of its former mayors - Subhash Chawla, Harphool Kalyan, Poonam Sharma and Kamlesh - bit the dust.
Reasons for these results
There are several factors that explain these results.
To begin with, demonetisation failed to be a poll issue in Chandigarh. In fact, it was never an issue, given the fact that Chandigarh did not face any major crisis regarding cash, as it falls in the category of elite cities where usage of cards and e-wallets is anyway very high.
Second, the city has a very well knit bank network, and although there have been lines outside ATMs, these are nothing compared to what the other cities in India have been witnessing.
Observers also point out that two days before the polls, banks were flooded with cash, which might have nullified the Opposition's claims on cash crunch. The middle-class dominated city has been happy to embrace Modi's narrative.
Congress candidates did try to make demonetisation a poll issue, but the attempts were half-hearted.
The Congress, in any case, suffers from guilt pangs when it comes to hurling charges of corruption at the BJP, given the fact that a large number of its leaders faced charges of taint when the UPA was in power. The man running the Congress show in Chandigarh, former Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, was also one of them.
In the rest of Punjab, the tone of both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is far more shrill. So is the misery that the people are going through.
Like on previous occasions, the civic polls this time too were dominated by local issues. For the people of Chandigarh, the issues remained improvement of water supply, decongestion of city roads and enhancing the safety and security of residents.
The BJP leadership was very clever to play up all these issues, while not playing up any of the national issues, including demonetisation.
BJP's massive push
Interestingly, the BJP had taken these polls very seriously, knowing that a victory here could help it in sending a strong message to the other poll-bound states on people accepting its song on demonetisation and a cashless economy. Besides, it would help galvanize the SAD-BJP combine's cadres in Punjab, where it is facing massive anti-incumbency. Visibly annoyed cadres were so far deserting ranks.
It is for this very reason that its campaign had been high profile, with heavyweights like the party's national president Amit Shah coming to address a rally for a local body poll. Apart from this, local MP Kirron Kher, too, had been doing the ground work for several months.
The biggest credit to the BJP is that it managed this spectacular show despite there being massive infighting at the top. Senior party leaders were pretty annoyed with city unit chief Sanjay Tandon getting a free hand in selecting candidates.
After the victory, Tandon himself acknowledged that the polls were not about demonetisation alone. "One issue cannot dominate the entire elections," he said.
Badal sees a good omen
Terming the SAD-BJP alliance's win in the polls as historic, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was quick to say that this was just the trailer - the complete film would be a spectacular victory for the alliance in the state Assembly polls.
Badal said this result would prove to be a trendsetter, and ensure a third successive term for the alliance in the state. He said that this was a massive mandate in favour of 'pro-people policies', and the solid performance of the BJP at the Centre under the 'visionary leadership' of Modi. He added that the Opposition, which was 'unleashing malicious propaganda' to defame the government for its narrow vested interests, had been 'silenced'.
But critics have questioned Badal's statement, saying he has nothing to celebrate in the Chandigarh polls because his party, the SAD, managed to win only one of the four seats it contested.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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