With no ally to prop it up and a raging agitation that threatens to unravel its political ambitions in the state, the BJP is struggling to pull up its act as Punjab is set to conduct polls for civic bodies next week. The party is also facing a severe internal upheaval as many of its candidates have either withdrawn from the poll fray or are contesting as Independents.
Ever since it lost its ally the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) after the passage of the contentious farm bills, most of the aspirants are wary of contesting on the party’s symbol even though they enjoy goodwill in their areas.
Elections for eight municipal corporation and 109 municipal councils are scheduled for February 14. This is the first electoral exercise to be held in the state which has been at the epicentre of the farmers’ protests that began months ago and show no signs of ebbing.
State BJP leaders, however, are surprisingly upbeat even as they claim that the ‘misinformation campaign’ run by opposition parties was dissuading other BJP leaders from contesting under the party banner. “There is a sinister campaign going on against the BJP. The law and order in the state is in a mess and the Congress government is responsible for spreading misinformation about the farm laws,’’ said Punjab BJP chief Ashwani Sharma. He said that the party was contesting in most wards ‘despite all the negativities’.
Even so, if the figures are any indication, the BJP has fielded only 670 candidates across 2,302 wards in the eight municipal corporations, 109 municipal councils and nagar panchayats of the state – a measly representation when compared to other parties. The ruling Congress has fielded candidates in 72 per cent seats, followed by the SAD with 68 per cent, and the AAP in 49 per cent. The BJP has the lowest with 29 per cent representation.
While the party continues to maintain that these elections are no referendum on the central farm laws, other parties, including the ruling Congress, SAD and the AAP say otherwise.
Sharma was allegedly manhandled and shown black flags in Moga – one of the cities that fall under the Malwa region, a strong support base of farmers. The BJP is now trying to concentrate on the Doaba region where they feel they could show a respectable performance despite all the backlash and a massive exodus of councillors who are jumping ship given the party’s low approval ratings.
“It has been a tough time for the state party leaders,’’ conceded a few senior BJP leaders, but added without missing a beat: “It is a local election and should be fought on local issues strictly.”