The farmers’ agitation has generated such a crisis for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the grassroots level in Punjab that for the urban local body (ULB) polls in the state on February 14, candidates it is backing, or is known to support, are standing as independents. The last date for filing papers was Wednesday.
The saffron party couldn’t field its candidates on all seats in 18 urban local bodies of Doaba region, comprising Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar districts. Here, polls are scheduled in 22 urban local bodies, including Kapurthala and Hoshiarpur municipal corporations. BJP office-bearers, who are in charge of polls, said the party has fielded all candidates in Nawanshahr (19 in 19 wards), Mukerian (15 in 15) and 49 in 50 wards of Hoshiarpur.
In Jalandhar district, the BJP failed to field a single candidate in Kartarpur municipal council and two nagar panchayats of Lohian and Mehtapur. BJP in-charges of Lohian and Mehatpur, Sudarshan Sobti and Amarjit Singh, for Kartarpur, said, “Our candidates are contesting independently in both nagar panchayats. Our representatives have been threatened by the Congress and the SAD.”
Congress general secretary and Kartarpur improvement trust chairman, Rana Randhawa, rubbished these charges. “The BJP has lost ground in Punjab due to anti-farmer policies,” said Randhawa. Seeking anonymity, a senior BJP leader said candidates were reluctant due to farmer agitation, and most were contesting independently.
In Hoshiarpur district, where the party has a good grip on the ground, it has managed to field maximum candidates in four ULBs including Hoshiarpur Mukerian, in 12 of 15 in Dasuya and in 10 of 15 of in Tanda. It has found it tough in Garhdiwala (four of 11) and some other bodies.
In Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar, Poonam Manik, BJP district president said the party found just six candidates for Rahon (13 wards) and three against a total of 15 seats in Banga municipal council. SBS Nagar BJP general secretary Pritpal Bajaj said, “Party workers fear contesting the polls as Banga is a small town and their candidature can hit the spirit of brotherhood.”
Rakesh Duggal, the Kapurthala BJP president, said the party had fielded candidates in 38 of the 50 wards in teh MC. Senior BJP leader and former cabinet minister Manoranjan Kalia said there were a large number of wards in towns, where party leaders were being threatened and prevented from filing nomination. “We are compiling the data and will take this up at the state level,” he said.
Bathinda BJP president to fight as Independent
Fearing a backlash from farmer unions, the Bathinda district BJP president Vinod Kumar Binta filed nomination his papers as an Independent candidate from Bhucho Mandi municipal council. Binta of Bhucho town was accompanied by his close aides.
“We want to avoid any conflict with farmer unions in the electoral battle. Farmer unions are opposing the BJP from holding any political or social programme, hence I am contesting as an Independent,” he said, evading a direct reply on whether he had the support of the state party leadership.
BJP office-bearers feigned ignorance that the district head is not contesting on the party symbol. No one from the district was apprised of Vinod’s decision, party sources said. “It causes embarrassment to the party when the electioneering is on and the BJP is trying to establish itself electorally,” said a source in the BJP.
For Bathinda MC, the BJP managed to field candidates only on 42 of 50 wards. The Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the AAP filed papers for all 50 seats.
Dushyant Gautam, in-charge of Punjab BJP affairs, said Binta is being expelled for anti-party activities. “He crossed the party lines by contesting as an Independent. There will be a strict bar on him for rejoining the party for the next six years,” said Gautam, also the national general secretary of the party.
Over 2,000 file papers in Majha region
As many as 2,078 candidates filed their nominations for two municipal corporations (MC), 11 nagar councils (NCs) and three nagar panchayats (NPs) in the Majha region districts of Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur and Pathankot.
Here, no trend could be established yet, but in Amritsar district, 156 candidates, including 50 of the Congress, 27 of the SAD, 28 of the AAP and 11 of the BJP, have filed the nominations for Jandiala NC (15 wards).
In Gurdaspur district, 912 nominations have been filed. For Batala MC (50 wards), 420 nominations have been filed. In Pathankot district’s Pathankot MC (50 wards), 336 nominations have been filed.
(With inputs from Vishal Joshi in Bathinda and Anil Sharma in Amritsar)