Chandigarh, December 20: The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Chandigarh municipal corporation elections is astounding in the backdrop of the demonitisation unleashed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the issue on which the country is perceived to be getting vertically divided. Modi had refused to join debate that led to wash out of winter session of both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. He is now addressing the people directly. Of course, the true picture of the demonitisation fall out would emerge after December 30.
Significantly, while the BJP made a clean sweep in Chandigarh, its alliance partner-the Shiromani Akali Dal- was just mauled as the party could win from only one out of four seats from which it contested.
The forthcoming February 2017 Assembly election in Punjab is already being seen through the prism of Chandigarh polls. The city was built as capital of Punjab but the state lost another capital after Lahore following re-organisation in 1966 when Haryana was carved out of it. Chandigarh was retained as capital of two states. Chandigarh administration is the third government in this most modern city of which municipal corporation is just one component. However, it is the Chandigarh administration with Punjab governor as its head that has over-riding powers over this local body.
This election was not over performance as this local body has little powers. Even those sitting councillors from the BJP who did not show up after winning the last election, were re-elected and that too with good margins. At play were bigger issues. It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi that overshadowed this election. Middle, lower middle and the weaker strata expressed their loyalties to the Great Leader. Long queues had disappeared outside banks in Chandigarh and adjoining Mohali about two weeks ago. Employment is mainly in government bodies and service sector. Of late, Chandigarh has been witnessing the conversion of industrial plots into hotels and malls following change in policy.
Corruption emerged as the biggest issue after neo-liberal policies were unleashed in 1991 by then finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh in the Congress government headed by P V Narasimha Rao. Crony capital was the by-product of neo-liberal policies. As Dr Manmohan Singh was picked up for the top job of the prime minister in 2004, he was perceived to be a honest man and he served two terms without being a blot on him personally.
The issue of corruption was taken to a higher pitch as Anna Hazare emerged on the scene supported indirectly by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. What emerged out of this anti-corruption movement was Arvind Kejriwal who launched AAP on the corruption agenda.
However, it is Modi who has now hijacked that narrative by going to the extreme and going in for demonitisation to end corruption. He has entered into partnership with middle class intellectuals to turn demonitisation into a popular idea. Modi has now taken the moral grandstanding hitting Kejriwal hard. Kejriwal had launched his non-ideological political party on one point agenda of ending corruption. Modi has now reversed the moral binary. AAP candidates lost their security deposits in Chandigarh polls.
BJP won 20 of the 22 seats that it contested out of a total of 26 seats with four seats having been allotted to the Akali Dal. By every account, it is stellar achievement for the party that has been under attack from the opposition on the issue of demonitisation. And the performance of some of the BJP councillors has been questionable in the last term. That makes the results all the more significant.
There is a lesson to be learnt for the Akali Dal in this election. The BJP over the years was perceived to piggy-back the Akali Dal in Punjab. The uninterrupted alliance dates back to 1996 when the party extended unstinted support to Atal Behari Vajpayee to form the government. The BJP has had little role to play as ruling party in Punjab. The BJP ministers would give vent to their grievances even publicly. The bureaucracy would just ignore them. The top Akali leadership is characterised by arrogance. It is this arrogance that has strong reaction in the RSS leadership in the state.
The BJP has been contesting 23 out of 117 in Punjab since 1997 elections and this quota is fixed. The perception of BJP winning with support of Akali Dal was, of course, not without its basis. Two Lok Sabha seats used to be important in this context before the last delimitation. Amritsar and Gurdaspur would go to the BJP. However, the party candidates would win mainly from the Sikh dominated segments. The situation is now changing.
The Akali Dal would have to change its perception about its alliance partner in Punjab to avoid meeting the fate as in Chandigarh. The RSS has strong reservations about Akali leadership.
Chandigarh’s socio-economic bond with Punjab is very strong, unlike that with Haryana. It is for this reason that the Chandigarh election is important for Punjab.