Do Punjab Civic Poll Results Mean a ‘BJP-Mukt’ State?

BJP lost even in cities where it has historically been strong such as Abohar, Hoshiarpur and Pathankot.

Updated
Politics
4 min read
BJP is facing a backlash in Punjab due to farmers’ anger against the Modi government’s new farm legislations
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The Congress' spectacular victory would have been the main highlight of the urban local body polls in Punjab had it not been for the complete wipeout of the BJP.

The elections have assumed importance in the context of the ongoing farmers' agitation against the Narendra Modi government controversial farm laws. It is believed that the BJP's defeat could be a consequence of the anger against the farm laws.

This article will try and answer four questions:

  1. How big is the BJP's defeat?
  2. How important is the victory for the Congress?
  3. What do the results mean in the context of the farmers' agitation?
  4. Is this a sign of what could happen in the 2022 Assembly polls?

How big is the BJP's defeat?

The magnitude of the BJP's loss is quite big, especially at a time when it is trying to expand in the state on its own might after the break-up with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

In the municipal corporation elections, the BJP had to face defeats even in cities where it has historically been strong such as Abohar, Hoshiarpur and Pathankot.

In Abohar, which has a BJP MLA, the party failed to win even one out of 50 wards.

In Hoshiarpur, which is represented in Parliament by Union minister Som Parkash, the party could win just four wards out of 50. Incidentally, Som Parkash has been one of the ministers negotiating with farmers’ unions on the farm laws.

In Gurdaspur district's Batala, the BJP could win just four wards. It performed marginally better in Pathankot, winning 11 out of 50, but much behind the Congress at 37.

Both Batala and Pathankot fall in the Lok Sabha constituency of BJP MP Sunny Deol.

The results should be particularly disappointing for the BJP as it is considered an urban party in Punjab, due to the higher concentration of its core vote bank - of Hindu traders.

So if the BJP is faring so poorly in urban areas - even in Hindu majority districts like Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur - it clearly shows that the party's fortunes are declining in Punjab.

How Important is the Congress Victory?

The extent is almost unprecedented in recent times. For the first time in over five decades, the Congress will have its mayor in Bathinda. This has been a bastion of the SAD and is represented by Harsimrat Kaur in the Lok Sabha.

Besides Bathinda, Congress has won a majority in the muncipal corporations of Abohar, Batala, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Pathankot. In Moga, it is the largest party with 20 out of 50 wards but no party has received a majority. The results of the Mohali corporation will be announced later.

The Congress' main rival in the state - the Shiromani Akali Dal - could win just 23 out of 350 corporation wards compared to the Congress' 271 in these six cities. The BJP won 20 wards in all and Aam Aadmi Party just 9, out of which 4 were in Moga alone.

The Congress has also won majorities in the urban civic bodies in smaller cities like Barnala, Dhuri, Chamkaur Sahib, Malerkotla, Zirakpur, Mehatpur, Lohian Khas and Phillaur.

However, the SAD performed better in these smaller cities. It has come close to a majority on its own in Nayagaon and equalled the Congress' tally in Qadian.

AAP performed poorly across the state and failed to open its account in several cities.

What does this mean in the context of the farmers' protest?

The main message is very clear - the public in Punjab is upset with the BJP mainly due to the farm laws and its handling of the ongoing farmers' protest.

It is clear that the farmers' protest isn't just a movement of rural Punjab and only of the Sikh community. The BJP's defeats in even Hindu dominated urban areas indicates that there is dissatisfaction against it across Punjab.

This comes after the party faced reverses in the urban civic body polls in Haryana, performing poorly even in areas where it has a strong base.

The civic body results in these two states indicates that the BJP has begun to pay the electoral price of the farm laws.

Is this a sign of what lies ahead in the 2022 Assembly polls?

No sooner had the results been announced, #captainfor2022 began trending on Twitter with Congress supporters saying that Captain Amarinder Singh will return to power in the Assembly elections due next year.

However, it may be too early to say that.

In Punjab there is a history of the ruling party at the state level doing well in civic polls as well as bypolls. This happened even when the SAD-BJP alliance was in power.

But there's no denying the extent of the Congress' victory, especially in places like Bathinda.

Another caveat needs to be added.

Though it is slightly simplistic to say this, Congress has competed with SAD for Sikh votes and with BJP for Hindu votes. When the two parties were in alliance, they posed a formidable challenge to the Congress. But now that the alliance has broken, Congress has managed to win a huge victory by combining support from both the communities.

A related issue is that both the SAD and AAP are more influential in rural Punjab and are known to be weaker in cities.

It is unlikely that Congress will have such an easy battle in rural Punjab, where both these parties could put up a much tougher competition.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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