After years of being in the political wilderness, Congress made a spectacular comeback in Gujarat, taking control of the rural local bodies in a stunning blow to the BJP in an election seen as a referendum on the ruling party’s state and central leadership.
The Grand Old Party won an impressive 22 of 31 district panchayats, a huge jump from the single panchayat it had won in 2010. It also won more than 50 per cent of the state’s 231 talukas or block-level panchayats. The Congress has been buoyed by these results and its leaders say that the outcome will benefit the party in the Assembly elections in 2017. The Congress has been out of power in Gujarat since 1995 while the BJP has ruled since then, barring a two year period when Shankarsinh Vaghela was the chief minister.
The setback to the BJP in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah’s home state comes barely weeks after the party suffered an embarrassing defeat in the assembly polls in Bihar.
These are the first elections in Gujarat on this scale after Narendra Modi moved from the state to Delhi and the first real popularity test for chief minister Anandiben Patel after she took charge of Gujarat last year.
Anandiben Patel has faced major political trouble in the shape of a widespread agitation by members of the Patel community who want either want reservations in jobs for themselves or the quotas to completely be eliminated.
Anandiben Patel could feel somewhat relieved at the BJP’s performance in urban areas. Her party won all six municipal corporations including Ahmedabad and Surat, though it faced resistance from the Congress in Rajkot.
The BJP also won more than 40 of the 56 municipalities where elections were held, including in Viramgam, where 22-year-old politician Hardik Patel, leader of the Patel agitation hails. A call by Hardik Patel to vote against the BJP seems to have not had much impact.
In the urban areas, the BJP retained control over Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar municipal corporations, though the Congress put up a tough fight at several places.
The BJP attributed its loss in rural areas to the Patidar agitation.
“The BJP has done work in rural areas. But with the kind of social engineering done by the Congress of late, the results for the BJP are below expectations,” said the party’s state vice-president IK Jadeja.
“This is an overall mandate in favour of the Congress. Even in urban areas, with increased number of seats, we can say the Congress has been widely accepted,” said Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki.
In Delhi, senior leader Ahmed Patel, who is political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, said the BJP government was on its way out in Gujarat after the results.