In a boost for Congress in Punjab, the party won seven out of the eight municipal corporations in civic polls, while emerging as the leader in the remaining Moga corporation. In fact, Congress’s victory particularly in Pathankot, Hoshiarpur and Bathinda – Bathinda will get a Congress mayor for the first time in 53 years – is a big blow for Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and BJP that were perceived to be strong in these areas. The polls likely reflect Punjab’s prevailing farm sentiment and attitude towards the Centre’s three new farm laws, with thousands of Punjabi farmers continuing to protest against them at Delhi’s borders.
Plus, the split between SAD and BJP has clearly hurt both parties. While BJP won just 50 wards – down from 248 in 2015 – SAD won 281 fewer than the 870 wards it won last time. Even AAP, which was making its debut in the municipal polls, managed to win only 60 wards. With Punjab slated to go for assembly polls next year, the municipal results bolster the position of chief minister Amarinder Singh. The latter was quick to pass state bills negating the Centre’s farm laws, clearly signalling where he and Congress stood on the issue. Though the farm laws will take agriculture forward, Punjab local polls show those benefits haven’t been adequately or effectively communicated to people.
Regarding assembly elections, Amarinder in 2017 had said it was his last election. But he walked back those comments last year, indicating his desire to contest in 2022. True, he remains Punjab Congress’s tallest leader. But younger leaders like Partap Singh Bajwa and Navjot Sidhu are getting restless for a spot in the limelight. The party, however, fears splits if it promotes a younger face. The civic poll’s outcome certainly boosts Amarinder’s case to head Congress in upcoming assembly elections.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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