Senior Aam Aadmi Party leaders exploded Tuesday after the Bharatiya Janata Party cantered to a surprisingly comfortable win in the Chandigarh mayoral election. Party boss Arvind Kejriwal accused the BJP of “dishonesty”, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said democracy had been “looted”, and Rajya Sabha MP Raghav Chadha labelled the poll results “an act of treason (desh droh)”.
The BJP’s Manoj Sonkar was elected Mayor after winning 16 of a possible 36 votes. The AAP’s Kuldeep Kumar was second with 12. Eight were deemed “invalid” and are at the heart of a row, with the AAP accusing presiding officer Anil Masih – a member of the BJP’s Minority Cell – of invalidating ballots.
Physical confrontations and a crying AAP candidate followed the poll results.
In one video, shared by news agency ANI, Congress and AAP councillors were seen pushing and shoving their BJP counterparts as they tried to gather around Mr Masih to celebrate their win.
Speaking to reporters after the results, Mr 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…”
चंडीगढ़ मेयर चुनाव में दिन दहाड़े जिस तरह से बेईमानी की गई है, वो बेहद चिंताजनक है। यदि एक मेयर चुनाव में ये लोग इतना गिर सकते हैं तो देश के चुनाव में तो ये किसी भी हद तक जा सकते हैं। ये बेहद चिंताजनक है।
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 30, 2024
Mr Mann, meanwhile, 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…”
Addressing reporters after the results, 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…” the AAP Rajya Sabha MP said.
“… neither the election agent nor Deputy Commissioner was shown the ballot paper before it was declared invalid. If they can do this for mayoral polls, imagine what they can do in Lok Sabha polls.”
“Does the BJP want to turn India into North Korea?” he continued, demanding Mr Masih be arrested.
The BJP, meanwhile, has simply responded with congratulatory tweet for its Chandigarh unit.
Congratulations to @BJP4Chandigarh Unit for winning the Mayor election. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi Ji, UTs have witnessed record development. That the INDI Alliance fought their first electoral battle and still lost to BJP shows that neither their…
— Jagat Prakash Nadda (@JPNadda) January 30, 2024
Party boss 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 Chandigarh election was to have been a landmark first win for the INDIA bloc, which is meant to unite the opposition to defeat the BJP in the Lok Sabha election. It was also meant to resolve seat-sharing squabbles between the INDIA members ahead of similar talks for the general election.
Specifically, 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; the former was to contest the mayoral race and the latter was to fight for the two deputy posts.
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.
Ultimately, though, the loss has further weakened the opposition group, which is already on the edge of collapse after two of its biggest members – Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) walked out. In the latter case, Nitish’s switch to the BJP made matters worse.
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