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Chandigarh: BJP Mayor Resigns Ahead of SC Hearing, Power Likely to Remain with BJP

Three AAP councillors have jumped ship to turn the tides in favour of BJP, sources say.
Three AAP councillors along with BJP leaders in Delhi. Photo: By arrangement.

Chandigarh: The Chandigarh Bharatiya Janata Party mayor Manoj Sonkar resigned from his post late on February 18, days after the Supreme Court made scathing remarks against a presiding officer for purportedly rigging last month’s Chandigarh mayoral polls in Sonkar’s favour.

BJP, it is learnt, asked Sonkar to resign, ahead of the resumption of hearing on February 19 at the apex court.

In the last hearing, the Supreme Court noticeably slammed the way presiding officer Anil Masih had conducted the election in order to favour Sonkar. The court has even summoned him today, to explain why he defaced cast ballots and later declared them invalid in an ostensible effort to declare Sonkar victorious.

Sources however said that BJP has not fully conceded defeat on this mayoral seat. Sources confirmed that three councillors of principal opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – which was fighting BJP tooth and nail in this poll rigging case and had even petitioned the Supreme Court in this regard – have now joined BJP in Delhi in the presence of the Chandigarh BJP president Arun Sood.

Those who joined BJP are Gurcharan Singh Kala, Neha and Poonam.

Their joining, sources said, would help BJP muster enough numbers ahead of what is now an imminent re-polling. The election may be announced anytime next week.

When contacted, AAP Chandigarh leader Prem Garg told The Wire that it was unfortunate that these three councillors ditched the party at this juncture.

He said that while the exit of the BJP mayor was imminent after the SC snub, it is ironical that BJP appears to have launched an ‘Operation Lotus’ even for a city’s civic body election. ‘Operation Lotus’ is the term for BJP’s horse trading practices.

He said that BJP first by rigging polls and now by poaching their councillors had proved that it could stoop to any low to seize power by unfair means.

Garg said, “If BJP can do anything for a small election, imagine what it can do in bigger elections? This, in true sense, is murder of democracy.”

What the numbers say

Before the induction of the three AAP councillors, the BJP had 14 councillors, Congress had seven, and AAP had 13 in the 35-member Chandigarh Municipal Corporation house.

One remaining councillor belonged to former BJP ally Akali Dal. There is one additional vote of a Chandigarh MP, who is the ex-officio member of the House. Currently, that is BJP MP Kirron Kher.

During last month’s mayoral polls, a joint candidate of the AAP and Congress was the favourite to win the post of Chandigarh mayor since both parties jointly had the support of 20 councillors, five more than that of BJP’s.

But BJP candidate Manoj Sonkar became new city mayor after Masih declared eight votes of opposition candidate invalid. Viral videos purportedly showed him rigging the ballots.

Now BJP’s latest tally after AAP’s defection has increased to 17, along with one additional vote of its MP (that is 18 now). With the Akali Dal councillor’s support, it now enjoys the potential of securing 19 votes.

On the contrary, opposition support has reduced to 17, with 10 now belonging to AAP and the original seven of Congress.

BJP now has the edge over the Congress and AAP.

The changing political equation between AAP and Congress may also benefit BJP. During last month’s polls, Congress and AAP had managed to stitch up an alliance as they are both opposition INDIA bloc members.

It is not clear if Congress will indeed go for an alliance with AAP for the re-poll considering that the latter has announced that it would contest the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat on its own.

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