Gujarat civic polls, wake-up call for BJP

Gujarat civic polls, wake-up call for BJP

The results of the civic polls held in Gujarat in the last fortnight are a serious setback to the BJP and should give much confidence and cheer to the Congress in the state. The BJP, which has completely dominated all levels of government in the state since 2000, has lost heavily in the elections, giving up its control over local bodies in rural areas to the Congress and ceding some ground to it in urban areas. The Congress won 134 taluk panchayats, against 26 it had won in 2010 and 22 zilla panchayats, up from 2 in 2010. The BJP won only 96 and 6 taluk and zilla panchayats respectively, down from 204 and 24 last time. In the case of municipalities, it did better by winning 45, but still seven less than in 2010, while the Congress gained seven more than last time. The BJP retained the major corporations but its performance was again not as good as in 2010.

After the defeats in Delhi and Bihar, the near rout in rural Gujarat is a serious blow to the BJP. The state was the party’s showpiece and its rejection in large parts of the state should not but cause concern and consternation. It will pose serious questions to and about the Anandiben Patel government. It is not just the absence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm of the state that has led to an erosion of the party’s support. The roots of the defeat will also have to be searched beyond the alienation of the Patel community which has been agitating for reservations. Rural distress in large areas led to disaffection for the ruling party. The Gujarat government has largely followed industry-friendly and urban-oriented policies, though the majority of the state’s people live in villages. The fall in farm commodity prices and the perceived indifference of the state government to the plight of farmers who bore the brunt of two successive monsoon failures had a role in the behaviour of the voters.

The results mark more than a return to reckoning for the Congress party which had been reduced to near irrelevance in the past over a decade. This is its best performance in the last 20 years and there is an opportunity for it to revive its fortunes in a big way. The civic elections were considered a semi-final before the Assembly elections due in 2017, and the party has much to hope for. It, however, has to put its house in order, strengthen its support base and reach out to others in the coming months.

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