The results of the nagar panchayats and municipal elections in Punjab hold no surprises. Amidst the on-going protest by the Punjab farmers against the agri sector reforms, it was natural for the ruling Congress Party, which is the main force behind the protest, to reap a huge electoral dividend. The party has swept the polls across the state, leaving its traditional Akali rivals far behind.
After the Akalis parted company with the ruling BJP on the question of the agri reforms, the traditional Akali-BJP alliance has come unstuck. Both parties fought this election separately and against each other. And both suffered further as a result. The BJP bore the brunt of the farmers’ ire, with the popular sentiment turning against it even in most urban centres, hitherto its strongholds. The saffron party was rejected even in the Hindu-dominated urban constituencies in Pathankot and Gurdaspur.
But it is the massive failure of the Akali Dal and the Aam Aadmi Party which should jolt them. While Harsimrat Kaur Badal quit the Modi government a few months ago, turning into a bitter critic of the farm reforms overnight, the AAP leadership in Delhi had most vociferously lent public support to the farmers’ protest, hoping to exploit it in the local bodies’ election in Punjab. The AAP ambition to expand its footprint outside Delhi now lies in tatters. But it was the Congress sweep that should help lift the spirits of the party leadership which has only known electoral misery in recent years.
The party won, with huge margins, all the seven municipal corporations in the state. In Bhatinda, the constituency represented by Harsimrat Kaur Badal in the Lok Sabha, the Congress regained control of the local corporation after 53 years. In all three regions of Doaba, Malwa and Majha, the Congress swept the polls. It was no doubt a personal victory for Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. He has reason to believe that he sewed up the civic polls once he openly fanned the anti-reform sentiment among the Sikh peasantry, instigating it against the long overdue modernisation of agriculture.
It was a cynical move which will hamper the objective of salvaging the state farming from the current fast-depleting soil and water processes. Without the reforms, a bleak future stares the Punjab farmers. Ironically, an expert panel set up by the Punjab government under the chairmanship of Montek Singh Ahluwalia had submitted its report to Amarinder Singh while the farmers’ protests were underway. The Ahluwalia panel too called for the same reforms.
Meanwhile, the overwhelming win of the Congress Party should not be mistaken for a popular endorsement of the leadership of the Gandhis. If anything, the Punjab voter has reposed faith in Captain Amarinder Singh’s leadership. He is easily the tallest leader in the state, especially after the veteran Akali leader Parkash Singh Badal’s near-retirement from active politics due to his advanced age. With the assembly elections due next year, Captain Singh has reason to feel confident of retaining power.