In a sweeping win in the Gujarat civic body polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won all six municipal corporations – Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Surat, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar by bagging 483 out of 576 seats. This marks a gain of 96 seats for the party from the polls of 2015.
Congress on the other hand, nosedived to 55 seats from 176 seats that it had secured in 2015. The party couldn’t secure any seat in Surat and couldn’t cross single digit except in Ahmedabad and Jamnagar.
Interestingly in Surat, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is set to form the opposition after winning 27 out of a total of 120 seats in the Surat Municipal Corporation. This would be the first time that Gujarat will see a third political party, other than BJP or Congress, play the role of opposition party.
Apart from AAP, the All-India Majlis e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that contested the election for first time also managed to win in seats that were once Congress’s stronghold.
In Ahmedabad, the AIMIM, which had put up 21 candidates, won seven out of eight seats in two Muslim dominated wards – Jamalpur and Maktampura – that were earlier held by Congress, while BSP won three seats in the 64-seat Jamnagar Municipal Corporation.
Noticeably, maximum number of seats that AAP has won in Surat are in areas like Varachha, Katargam and Ashwanikumar that are Patidar (Patel) dominated areas of the city.
A prime factor that went against the Congress and in favour of AAP in Surat is the disillusionment of the members of Patidar Anamt Andolan Samiti (PAAS) after the party did not consider its members and some strong contenders for tickets. The PAAS which was not happy with the Congress withdrew three of its candidates from the fray at the last moment and threw its weight behind AAP, that gave tickets to Patidars.
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Further, the only major election campaign rally that was to be addressed by Congress’s state chief Amit Chavda and AICC leaders Biswaranjan Mohanty and Rajeev Satay was cancelled after PAAS hinted that it may disrupt the rally. On the other hand, AAP leader and Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia took out a massive rally in the city.
In the 2015 elections, that had happened at the wake of quota agitation lead by Hardik Patel, the PAAS had been a major force behind Congress’s gaining 17 seats in Surat civic polls.
Hardik Patel, who is now the working president of Gujarat Pradesh Congress, told the media, “People want strong opposition and they have made it clear through voting. But Congress has failed to prove itself as one.”
It should be noted that the Congress lost 200 seats in various local bodies even before elections begun. Some seats were lost due to rejection of the nominations, while some candidates withdrew their nominations at the last hour and in other cases the party’s mandated candidate couldn’t file papers as they had been replaced at the last moment.
BJP won uncontested in one seat in Naranpura ward of Ahmedabad, one in Surat, 21 out of 36 seats in Una municipality in Gir Somnath district and 26 out of 36 seats in Kadi municipality in Mehsana after Congress candidates withdrew their nominations.
In Narmada, Congress fielded 12 candidates on 28 seats of Rajpipla municipality while relying on independent candidates to come aboard. In 2015 polls, Congress had contested on all seats and the BJP had reached out to the independent candidates.
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In the Patidar dominated Unjha municipality in Mehsana district, Congress did not field a single candidate in this election. Instead, after several complaints from party cadres from Mehsana regarding distribution of tickets, Congress leadership had to suspend Mehsana district president Rajendrasinh Darbar and former party general secretary Kiritsinh Zala.
Two candidates of BJP were declared winners unopposed in the Unjha municipality. Interestingly, in the polls of 2015, BJP had not fielded a single candidate from Unjha owing to the disillusionment of Patidars after the Patidar quota agitation.
Apart from PAAS that had been a strong support for the Congress, the party has also lost another political ally – Bharatiya Tribal Party led by Chhotubhai Vasava, who joined hands with AIMIM recently for the local polls.
As the Gujarat Assembly elections approach in 2022 and with the allies that stood with the party in 2015 gone, Congress has to not only face the BJP alone but also keep an eye on both AAP and AIMIM in the state that cut into the party’s vote bank in the civic polls. While AAP came into Gujarat claiming to be an alternate for both BJP and Congress, AIMIM barged into Congress’s minority vote bank, reportedly questioning the party’s contribution to the upliftment of the minorities in the state. BSP, too, registered a win in the Congress stronghold in Jamnagar, even while Congress dismissed AAP and AIMIM as “B team of the BJP”.
The party, said to have been suffering due to infighting, has lost several of its MLAs since the Assembly polls of 2017 and recently lost the bypoll for the Rajya Sabha seat of senior leader late Ahmed Patel, uncontested to BJP as it was vacant after Patel’s demise.