BJP Wins Crucial Chandigarh Mayoral Posts with 8 Opposition Votes Declared “Invalid”
NEW DELHI, Jan 30: In a crucial election billed as the first attempt of the opposition India bloc to take on the NDA, the BJP pulled up a surprise victory for the elections to the Chandigarh mayor’s post despite being five short of required number of votes with the presiding officer declaring eight opposition votes invalid.
As the protesting opposition members boycotted the subsequent elections, the BJP nominees had easy wins for the senior deputy mayor and deputy mayor’s posts. For the INDIA bloc, it was yet another setback as the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had managed to reach an understanding for the post, and billed it as the first such election tie-up between parties of the beleaguered anti-BJP alliance.
It was a big victory for the BJP, which already held the posts of mayor, senior two deputy mayor and deputy mayor in the Municipal Corporation. As per the Congress-AAP tie-up, AAP was to fight the mayor’s seat, and the Congress, the senior deputy mayor and deputy mayor posts. After the BJP’s Manoj Sonkar won, the party also took the senior deputy mayor and deputy mayor posts, winning 16-0, as the AAP and Congress, protesting over the mayor election, stayed away.
While the Congress and AAP are alleging that “the BJP played foul” in the poll, the latter has suggested there was cross-voting within their ranks.
Given the shaky ground on which the Congress-AAP alliance rests in Punjab and Haryana, a failure to win the mayor seat could be a deal breaker for many in both parties, in both states, who are reluctant to join hands with each other.
The Congress has seven councillors in the Municipal Corporation, and AAP 13, with the two adding up to 20 in the 35-member House. The BJP had 15 votes, courtesy its 14 councillors and the vote of the Chandigarh MP the BJP’s Kirron Kher, who is the ex-officio member of the House. One councillor in the house belongs to former BJP ally Akali Dal.
With a total 36 votes to be polled, the Congress and AAP hoped to have an easy win. This year, by rotation, the mayor’s seat was reserved for a Scheduled Caste candidate.
The BJP’s Manoj Sonkar got 16 votes, while AAP candidate Kuldeep Tita (backed by the Congress) got just 12. As many as 8 votes were declared “invalid.” Soon after, protests broke out against the presiding authority for the election, nominated councillor Anil Masih, who was once the BJP’s minority cell office-bearer. The Congress and AAP alleged that he declared votes invalid in a “premeditated manner,” while Congress leader Pawan Bansal among others pointed out that the live telecast of the counting showed BJP leaders running away with the ballot papers and tearing them, before the Opposition could get access to them. Eventually, Marshals had to be called in to control the situation.
Bansal said: “Congress and AAP agents were not given access to the ballot papers. The presiding officer… conducted a charade of an election… We were seeing live… If you notice, the presiding officer immediately vacated the chair after the voting and the BJP candidate was there standing beside him. BJP members rushed in, took away the ballot papers and tore them before anyone could even go in and see.”
Earlier, the voting itself was delayed by an hour even as, amid the confusion, Akali Dal councillor Hardeep Singh sought to exercise the NOTA option. This was rejected because there is no such provision for it in the mayoral poll.
On January 18, the day the mayoral polls were to be held, AAP and Congress councillors reached the venue, when they were told that voting had been halted as presiding officer Anil Masih had taken ill.
The AAP and Congress moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court over the matter, calling what had happened “unconstitutional.” Senior leaders of the two sides also claimed that the postponement showed how “threatened” the BJP felt due to their alliance.
The Chandigarh administration argued that Masih’s illness and apprehensions of law and order had led to the postponement, and sought that the polls be deferred till February 6. However, the High Court ordered that the polls be held on January 30.
Speaking to reporters after the results, the Delhi chief minister and the AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal drew parallels to former United States President Donald Trump – who contested the transfer of power after he lost the 2020 election, claiming his rivals had rigged votes – and claimed the BJP would similarly subvert the democratic process to retain power.
“Today’s election showed to what lengths they (the BJP) can go to win an election. I think they will do anything… falsify voter lists, falsify votes, capture EVM (electronic voting machines)… I was also thinking that, by grace of God, if INDIA wins then, like Trump, they won’t leave their seats…” “They (the BJP) will be stuck to their seats… there may be martial law, but they won’t give up power.”
Earlier Mr Kejriwal posted on X, “The manner in which dishonesty has been done in broad daylight in the Chandigarh mayor elections is extremely worrying. If these people can stoop so low in a mayor’s election, then they can go to any extent in the country’s elections. This is very worrying…”
The Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann ripped into Mr Masih, calling him a “spineless” person. The Chief Minister also referred to the postponement of the polls due to a medical problem for Mr Masih. “On January 18 he said he had a problem in his spine… so he couldn’t come… he was right. Actually, he doesn’t even have a spine. He is spineless. If he had, he would have counted votes properly…”
The AAP Rajya Sabha member Raghav Chadha claimed that all eight votes declared “invalid” by Mr Masih had been for his party’s candidate. Had those votes counted, the AAP would have won. “This is an act of treason (desh droh). Our eight votes declared (invalid)… not one vote of BJP was declared invalid,” he said, “When a vote is declared invalid, the Presiding Officer has to show agents of all parties (the ballot paper). But today this didn’t happen…” he said.
The BJP, meanwhile, has simply responded with congratulatory tweet for its Chandigarh unit. The BJP National Spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill has termed his party’s win a victory of democracy. “BJP’s victory in the Chandigarh Mayoral elections is the victory of democracy and the defeat of ‘thagbandhan’ of AAP and Congress. BJP’s victory is the victory of truth over lies, the victory of nation-serving politics over the politics of corruption, and the victory of people-serving politics over the opportunistic politics of AAP and Congress,” he said.
The BJP president JP Nadda posted, “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modiji, union territories have witnessed record development. That the INDI Alliance fought their first electoral battle, and still lost to BJP, shows neither their arithmetic is working nor their chemistry.”
The AAP and the Congress, which have so far struggled to reach a deal to share Punjab’s 13 and Delhi’s seven seats, or convince its state units to play ball, reached an understanding for this election. In each instance, the AAP and Congress councillors were to vote for each other, ensuring a maximum of 20 votes and a straightforward sweep of this election. However, it hasn’t worked out that way.