It is not so much the Congress's victory as the Bharatiya Janata
Party's (BJP) defeat in Gandhinagar that has roiled the political
pot in this high profile election to the smallest municipal
corporation in Narendra Modi's Gujarat.
In the first-ever elections to the civic body in this state
capital, the Congress narrowly edged out the BJP from gaining
power, securing 18 of the 33 seats, leaving the ruling party to
pick up the remaining 15. The results were declared Thursday.
Starved of a win for long in the face of a relentlessly aggressive
Modi-led BJP picking up local self government bodies at will, the
Congress is ecstatic. The BJP controls 22 of the 24 district
panchayats and six of the eight municipal corporations in the
state. In 2007, the BJP bagged 117 of the 182 seats in the Gujarat
Vidhan Sabha elections with Congress getting 62 and three
independents bringing up the rear.
Arjun Modvadia, the newly-appointed president of Gujarat Pradesh
Congress Committee who replaced Siddharta Patel, is emphatic that
not only is it a political victory but a moral victory as well.
"It is a clear warning for both L.K. Advani, the MP from here as
well as for chief minister Modi of the things to follow next year
when the Vidhan Sabha elections are due," he said.
Modvadia has cause to be happy because this is the first election
fought by his party after he took over as the state unit chief.
Patel quit after the Congress was routed in the elections to the
six key municipal corporations of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot,
Surat, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar.
Though Gandhinagar city is considered a traditional stronghold of
Congress with the bureaucrats and retired government employees
making up a fair chunk of the 1.33 lakh voters, BJP was not taking
any chances and had pressed into service I.K. Jadeja, the former
minister of urban development as well as Shankar Chowdhary, the
Radhanpur MLA, to oversee the civic elections of the state
Former BJP chief minister Suresh Mehta, who quit the party before
the 2007 state assembly polls, describes the result as a
reflection of Modi's waning popularity. "This has to be viewed in
the larger perspective because despite the state government's pay
hike as per the Sixth Pay Commission, the voters were not enthused
to vote for the BJP. This clearly signifies that Modi is losing
his popularity," Mehta observed.
Congress leader Narhari Amin carried the point further saying that
government employees, particularly the Class 3 and Class 4
employees, have contributed majorly to the party's victory. Both
leaders say that the result will have an impact on the politics of
BJP spokesperson I.K. Jadeja, who was also responsible for the
Gandhinagar civic election, admitted that Gandhinagar had been a
Congress stronghold. "We had a small margin in assembly elections
while we were trailing in the Lok Sabha so far as Gandhinagar city
area is concerned and it was only obvious that the contest was to
be close here," Jadeja said.
"We have lost the Corporation only for a ward and now we shall
analyze the results," he added.
Jadeja has a point. Interestingly, it was Ward No.4, comprising
Sectors 19, 20 and 21, which houses the chief minister's residence
as well as that of his cabinet ministers and key bureaucrats which
clinched the election for the Congress. Former BJP president of
Gandhinagar unit Pravin Patel who was denied a ticket by the party
had rebelled and contested on a Congress ticket. It was the panel
led by Patel comprising a total of three members from Ward No.4,
which sealed BJP's fate in this crucial election. The margin of
Congress victory was three seats.
However, the fact remains that the Gandhinagar civic poll results
have somewhat dented the armour of invincibility that has become
the hallmark of electoral results for the BJP under Modi in
Gujarat. Furthermore, it has boosted the drooping morale of the
Congress and its workers.
All this in a state where elections are due to the Vidhan Sabha
(R.K. Misra can
be contacted at email@example.com)