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Sunday, July 3, 2022

What AAP’s emergence as frontrunner in Chandigarh civic polls means ahead of Punjab elections

Key Highlights

  • The results hold even greater significance since the Kejriwal-led outfit managed to upset several high-ranking BJP nominees, most notably the city’s sitting mayor Ravi Kant Sharma and former mayor Davesh Moudgil
  • The second surprise is the fall in BJP’s vote share
  • Given that it has primarily been the BJP or the Congress that has held the mayoral seat in the city since 1996, the AAP’s victory in Chandigarh suggests that the state’s citizens may be amenable to a legitimate alternative to the two traditional heavyweights

The Aam Aadmi Party marked its debut in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation elections with a stellar performance, winning 14 out of the 35 wards in the city, leaving the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress licking their wounds. 

Although the saffron outfit and the Grand Old Party managed to bag 29.3 per cent and 29.9 per cent of the votes, respectively (compared to the AAP’s 27.1 per cent), it is now AAP that has emerged as the frontrunner as the state gears up for Assembly elections early next year. 

The results hold even greater significance since the Kejriwal-led outfit managed to upset several high-ranking BJP nominees, most notably the city’s sitting mayor Ravi Kant Sharma and former mayor Davesh Moudgil. 

Following the announcement of the results, senior AAP leader Raghav Chadha hailed the mandate as a “victory of Kejriwal’s model of governance,” adding, “Chandigarh is just a trailer, Punjab is the movie.” 

But is that really going to be the case? In 2016, it was the BJP that swept the polls winning 21 out of 26 wards with its partner SAD bagging one seat. However, only months later, the Akali-BJP alliance lost the state elections, paving the way for Congress to claim power. 

Similarly, the Congress, which is aiming to retain control in Punjab, managed to narrowly stave off the BJP in the 2011 civic polls, only to lose out to the Akali-led alliance (of which BJP was a junior partner) in the Assembly elections. These discrepancies suggest that the results of the city’s civic polls may not be as much of a canary in the coal mine as many consider them to be. 

However, what makes AAP’s victory significant is that it has managed to wrest the mayoral seat from BJP in a city that is Hindu-dominant. According to 2011 census data, Hindus made up roughly 80 per cent of Chandigarh’s population, with Sikhs accounting for 13 per cent. This, according to some experts, may do a great deal in quelling the conception that AAP has a, largely, a rural presence in the state. 

The second surprise is the fall in BJP’s vote share. In the run-up to the polls, the entrance of the AAP in what has traditionally been a two-way contest between the BJP and Congress was expected to affect the vote share of the latter more than the former. However, that hasn’t turned out to be the case, with both parties ceding electoral ground to the Kejriwal-led outfit. 

The victory in Chandigarh has been hailed by AAP leaders as a testament to the Delhi model of governance that Kejriwal has championed, made more prominent in the face of growing resentment among Chandigarh’s electorate over the ruling party’s failure to come good on promises of improved roads, flood management and infrastructure. 

Given that it has primarily been the BJP or the Congress that has held the mayoral seat in the city since 1996, the AAP’s victory in Chandigarh suggests that the state’s citizens may be amenable to a legitimate alternative to the two traditional heavyweights. 

Despite the Narendra Modi-led government repealing the three controversial agri-marketing laws that triggered massive protests at the national capital’s borders, there is now a sense that trust may have irreparably eroded. The saffron outfit’s campaign has fallen flat despite the efforts of central leaders like Jai Ram Thakur, Manohar Lal Khattar and Piyush Goyal, and made worse by a relatively quiet campaign orchestrated by AAP, that focused on grassroots outreach in wards. Kejriwal himself, it bears mentioning, carried out just a single rally shortly before the polls. 

Finally, given that the charm of CM Charanjit Singh Channi and Navjot Singh Siddhu failed to vitalise the prospects of Congress in Chandigarh, and the potential of former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s new party eating into the GOP’s votes come the state polls, the prevailing sense of optimism among AAP cadres may not be misplaced. 

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