New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Saturday won all three top posts — mayor, senior deputy mayor and deputy mayor — in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, despite winning fewer seats than the closest competitor Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Corporation polls itself, results for which were declared on 27 December.
For the mayor’s election, for which elected councillors cast their votes, BJP candidate Sarabjit Kaur won after one of the AAP votes was held invalid by presiding officer Mahesh Inder Singh, appointed by the Chandigarh administration. Singh himself is a BJP councillor. The vote was held invalid apparently for a tick mark at the back of the ballot, which is supposed to be secret and anonymous. This led to the AAP crying foul and demanding a re-poll.
But there is more mystery concerning the election of the senior deputy mayor, which, too, the BJP went on to win — suggesting that at least one AAP candidate has changed alliance.
The results of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation polls threw a hung House on December 27, with the AAP winning 14 of the 35 wards in the city and the BJP 12 — down from 20 in the previous election in 2016.
The Congress won eight seats, but later, one of its councillors, Harpreet Kaur Babla, joined the BJP. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) won one ward, according to election records.
The House has 36 members, including Chandigarh’s BJP Lok Sabha MP Kirron Kher, as an ex-officio member.
BJP wins, AAP creates ruckus
Seven Congress councillors and the one SAD councillor abstained from voting Saturday. So, there were 28 members effectively present to vote in the elections for the top three posts in the civic body — 14 from the BJP and 14 from the AAP.
For the mayor’s post, it was a 14-14 vote, and the BJP candidate went on to win it after the one vote in support of the AAP candidate, Anju Katyal, was held invalid.
In that one ballot paper that was held invalid, there was a tick mark-like sign, senior leaders from three political parties that have members in the Chandigarh civic body confirmed to ThePrint.
AAP leaders, however, refrained from naming the candidate, citing rules that demand secrecy in such votes.
For the senior deputy mayor’s post, Dalip Sharma of the BJP defeated Prem Lata of AAP by a clear 15-13 vote, which is only possible if an AAP councillor cross voted.
For the third-highest post of deputy mayor, BJP candidate Anup Gupta ultimately won through sheer luck. The voting process threw a 14-14 result, and finally the BJP candidate won through a draw of lots. He defeated the AAP’s Ram Yadav.
After the polls, there was a ruckus, with AAP councillors blocking the winning candidates from addressing the House, following which initially marshals were called, and then the police.
The AAP’s Punjab and Chandigarh affairs in-charge Jarnail Singh accused the BJP of “murdering democracy” in the mayoral elections. “The residents of the city had voted the Aam Aadmi Party to the highest number of seats at 14. AAP’s victory in the mayor’s election was certain, but the BJP deliberately got an AAP vote ‘cancelled’ by insulting the fatwa of the public and declared its mayor forcibly,” he alleged.
The party’s other co-incharge for Punjab, Raghav Chadha, told the press: “I want to tell the people of Punjab that there was an unholy pact amongst the BJP, SAD and Congress to deliberately keep the AAP away from power in Chandigarh.”
ThePrint tried to reach BJP state president (Chandigarh) Arun Sood for his comments through phone calls and WhatsApp messages, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.
Both Singh and Chadha refrained from specifically commenting on the possibility of cross voting for the deputy mayor’s election by one councillor, who is likely to have changed sides.
Dismissing the AAP’s allegation as misleading, Congress leader Abhishek Dutt, who was in charge of the party’s campaign for the Chandigarh civic polls, said: “The invalid vote was clearly pre-planned. Every councillor knows that these votes are supposed to be secret. Tearing the ballot paper or putting any additional signs lead to disqualifications. That one invalid vote by an AAP councillor paved the way for a BJP mayor. Then came the senior deputy mayor’s election. Most likely, the same AAP councillor cross-voted this time. The AAP should suspend that councillor instead of giving misleading information to people and engaging in baseless blame-games.”
On why the Congress abstained from voting, a senior party functionary said that voting for a BJP candidate would have put the party in a bad light as they are fighting primarily against the BJP nationally. Also, voting for an AAP candidate would have put them in an awkward position too ahead of assembly polls in Punjab, where AAP is the principal opposition.
Councillors sent away for safe-keeping
There is no way to independently cross-check if the same councillor whose vote was held invalid for the mayor’s election cross voted for another party’s candidate while electing the senior deputy mayor.
Also, there is currently no anti-defection law that applies to the council of the Chandigarh civic body.
A senior BJP leader told ThePrint that the party had almost lost hope in convincing other councillors to join them and were prepared to be in opposition in the Chandigarh civic body, but things changed with Congress’ Babla joining the BJP. That threw both the Congress and the AAP into a state of anxiety, he said.
While the Congress went on to move all its winning councillors to locations in Jaipur, the AAP moved their councillors to Delhi and Himachal Pradesh in batches on 2 and 3 January, said senior leaders in both the parties. With such close margins, the BJP also did not want to take any chances, and they sent their councillors to Shimla, said a party functionary.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)