Gujarat Civic Polls: A storm in a teacup?

<b>The pressure on the Prime Minister must be immense for him to celebrate BJP’s sweep in a set of byelections to local bodies in Gujarat as nothing short of a referendum on demonetisation!</b>

PTI Photo
PTI Photo

RK Misra

It’s a storm in a teacup but trust the Bharatiya Janata Party to package it as nothing short of a tsunami.

But then the BJP has reasons to celebrate after being savaged nationwide for the Prime Minister’s ill-planned ‘Notebandi’, when it managed to win two town municipalities and a tehsil panchayat in the by-elections when results were declared in Gujarat on Tuesday.

Gujarat BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya called it a popular mandate in support of demonetisation, as did chief minister Vijay Rupani. The results were deemed important enough for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to shower encomiums via his Twitter handle.

The State Election panel announced that BJP had won two municipalities and one tehsil Panchayat, besides the by-elections for 11 municipality seats, seven district panchayat seats and 15 taluka panchayat seats.

The elections acquired added importance because these are being interpreted as a barometer of public opinion on the controversial demonetisation of ₹500 and ₹1,000 currency notes initiated by the BJP-led Union government on November 8.

Out of the 126 seats in various local self government bodies in the state for which polling was held, BJP contested 125 and won 109. Prior to the polls, the BJP held 64 of these seats and the Congress 52 seats.The Congress tally now stands reduced to 17.

There are a total of 230 taluka (tehsil) panchayats,31 district panchayats and 56 municipalities in Gujarat. The BJP controlled 30 of the 31 district panchayats, 191 of the 230 Taluka panchayats and 47 of the 56 municipalities in the state at the time Narendra Modi left chief ministership to take over as the Prime Minister in 2014.

However, BJP suffered a major setback in the November 2015 local self government body elections held in the backdrop of the Patel pro-reservation stir. The Congress, which had held only one district panchayat, wrested control of 23 while the BJP was left with only seven. In the 230 taluka panchayats, where the Congress controlled only 37 earlier, it had improved its tally to 132. In comparison BJP’s stood reduced from 193 earlier to merely 73 taluka panchayats.

In the election results announced on Tuesday, the BJP increased its tally by one taluka panchayat, bagging Gondal, winning 18 of the 22 taluka panchayat seats and five of the seven district panchayat seats from here. Gondal taluka panchayat was in the hands of the Congress with 12 seats, but the BJP swept it this time.

Additionally the BJP also annexed two more municipalities, winning 41 of the 44 seats in Vapi (Valsad district) and 27 of the 28 seats in Kanakpur-Kansad (Surat district).

In the by-election to 15 seats in the various taluka panchayats of the state, BJP bagged five and the Congress four, while those to the remaining seats were postponed for technical reasons.

The elections to the municipalities became necessary due to the expiry of their terms while the Gondal taluka panchayat was dissolved due to a tie between the Congress and the BJP.

Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said that his party accepted the results with all humility and would continue to raise issues of mass concern”.

RK Misra is a senior journalist based in Gandhinagar, Gujarat

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