BJP beats Congress in Guj panchayat polls

BJP beats Congress in Guj panchayat polls

Gujarat Congress' hopes that its ‘resort’ politics would help protect its turf in panchayat polls across the state on the lines of its experience in Rajya Sabha polls last year and in Karnataka elections recently have been dashed.

The Congress appears to have failed to keep its flock together, losing five district panchayats and about 30 taluka panchayats that went to the hustings.

“BJP blatantly used money power, government machinery and pressurised our members. Some of them were even paid up to Rs 2 crore,” Amit Chavda, Congress President, Gujarat, said. “Amit Shah had instructed Chief Minister and other Cabinet ministers that they should ensure that Congress’ hold in taluka panchayats is reduced to less than half. They have, however, failed.”

Though Chavda announced an immediate suspension of all those who went against party mandate, his brave demeanour revealed little about the worries he may have before 2019 Parliamentary polls. Congress had in 2015 captured 23 of 31 district panchayats and 146 of 239 taluka panchayats after a gap of two decades. It is this entry in rural Gujarat that had helped Congress restrict BJP in 2017 Assembly polls to below 100 mark in 182-seat Gujarat Assembly.

Operation failed?

Generally, elections are held every two-and-a-half years among elected representatives of these panchayats to re-elect presidents and vice-presidents of the panchayat bodies. This time, Congress has lost control over five district panchayats of Ahmedabad, Patan, Bhavnagar, Mahisagar and Dahod. In fact, Congress had shifted members from Patan, Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar to safe locales but the operation appears to have failed miserably.

In Bhavnagar, three out of eight members who were kept “safe” voted for BJP candidates openly. Similarly in Baroda, some Congress members voted against their official candidates, while some of their counterparts remained absent in Rajkot. In Morbi, it was rebel camp that went against party’s official mandate that won the president and vice-president’s posts.

Congress also lost its power in about 30 taluka panchayats, including Umreth of Anand district, the hometown of state president Chavda. Earlier, Congress had lost control over a panchayat in Amreli, the hometown of leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani.

“This is a big victory for us," Jitu Vaghani, BJP president, Gujarat said. "Congress is breaking up and their differences are coming out in the open.”

What would further worry Congress is that many of these panchayats comprise of its strong electoral base of OBC, Thakors and tribal votes. These are also the places where BJP could not make a dent even in Assembly polls six months ago.