Chandigarh | The BJP swept the Chandigarh mayoral polls on Tuesday in a shock defeat for the AAP-Congress alliance, which alleged foul play and moved the high court seeking fresh elections.
The two opposition partners had predicted an easy victory in the 35-member House of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, projecting it as an early test for the INDIA bloc.
But the BJP retained all three top posts for which elections were held.
Councillors from the two parties created a ruckus in the House as the result for the mayor’s post was declared, and then boycotted the next phase – elections to pick the senior deputy mayor and the deputy mayor.
BJP candidate Manoj Sonkar defeated the AAP's Kuldeep Kumar for the mayor’s post, polling 16 votes against the 12 won by his rival. Eight votes were declared invalid.
After the opposition boycott, BJP nominees Kuljit Sandhu and Rajinder Sharma were declared elected to the posts of senior deputy mayor and deputy mayor, respectively. They got 16 votes each.
Tuesday’s elections were held on directions from the Punjab and Haryana High Court, following their postponement on January 18.
Opposition councillors alleged tampering with the ballot papers by presiding officer Anil Masih, a charge rejected by him and the BJP.
Hours after the result, Aam Aadmi Party's defeated candidate moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court, party leaders said.
The party wants the court to set aside the results and order fresh elections under the supervision of a retired high court judge. AAP leaders expected the matter to be heard on Wednesday.
Opposition councillors squatted outside the House and shouted slogans against the BJP after the result. AAP candidate Kuldeep Kumar was seen in tears.
AICC general secretary K C Venugopal called the election a “brazen, shameless capture of the democratic system”.
AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal expressed “serious concern” over the “cheating” in “broad daylight” and Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann called it a Black Day for democracy in India.
BJP president J P Nadda took a dig at the opposition’s unity efforts.
“That the ‘INDI Alliance’ fought their first electoral battle and still lost to BJP shows that neither their arithmetic is working nor their chemistry,” he said.
Newly elected mayor Sonkar also slammed the opposition. "Levelling allegations is what they do. The presiding officer conducted the polls in a fair manner and the entire process was videographed," he said.
“They tried to tear the ballot papers when the mayoral poll result was declared and they got into scuffles," he claimed.
The AAP and the Congress have accused the presiding officer of making
some marks on the ballot papers during the counting, rendering them invalid. They argued that these “invalid” ballots tilted the balance in the BJP’s favour.
Congress leader Pawan Kumar Bansal claimed that the Congress and the AAP agents were not allowed to examine the ballot papers.
“The presiding officer announced the rejection of eight votes, declared the BJP candidate the winner and went away. BJP members rushed to the table and tore off the ballot papers," he alleged.
Congress councillor Gurbax Rawat too alleged that the presiding officer did not call the party's election agent when the ballot box was opened for counting. "We do not accept the result," he said.
The BJP has 14 councillors in the 35-member corporation. Its Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher also has voting rights as an ex-officio member.
The AAP has 13 councillors, the Congress seven and the Shiromani Akali Dal one.
In Punjab, the AAP and the Congress have indicated reluctance on contesting the Lok Sabha polls together even though they are both in the INDIA grouping. But they agreed to contest together in the elections in Chandigarh, the Union Territory that serves as the capital of both Punjab and Haryana.
As part of the Chandigarh alliance, the AAP contested for the mayor's post while the Congress fielded candidates for the two other posts.
Tight security arrangements were in place around the municipal corporation building for the polls. About 700 police personnel, along with those from paramilitary forces, were deployed, officials said.
The polls were originally scheduled for January 18 but deferred to February 6 by the Chandigarh administration after the presiding officer fell ill. The administration's order had triggered protests by the Congress and the AAP councillors.
On January 24, the high court directed the administration to hold the mayoral polls at 10 am on January 30. While quashing the order postponing the elections, the court called it "unreasonable, unjustified and arbitrary".
Elections to the three posts are held every year during the House's five-year term. The Congress abstained from voting in 2022 and 2023, leading to a BJP victory.
The election for the mayor’s post is through a secret ballot.
In this year's elections, the post was reserved for a candidate from the Scheduled Caste category.