Gandhinagar: With more than half its population of 63.8 million going to the polls on November 22 and 29, the elections to 323 local self-government bodies in Gujarat will be a major popularity test for Chief Minister Anandiben Patel.
Anandiben Patel will face her first full-scale election after taking over as chief minister from her mentor and now Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2014. There were some assembly and local body by-elections last year, which produced a mixed bag of results.
The local body elections will be held with the state's first woman chief minister in office for close to two years. Since the electorate of 35.5 million will be from both urban and rural areas, the results will be a referendum on her rule without Modi around. The term of the present state assembly expires in December 2017.
Agreeing that the elections will be a true test, the seniormost minister and government spokesperson Nitin Patel told IANS: "Every election is an acid test. Our party has begun preparations for the polls and has started the process to select candidates."
Anandiben Patel is confident that people will again repose faith in the Bhratiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Congress however seems confident of overcoming the BJP challenge.
Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki says: "We are exposing the failure of the BJP in municipalities. There is dirt, filth, corruption, everywhere. These are the real issues."
Another task was to consolidate the Congress rank and file and iron out differences, Solanki told IANS.
According to State Election Commissioner Varesh Sinha, polling will be held first on November 22 for the municipal corporations of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar, all of which are controlled by the BJP, and have 9.49 million eligible voters. The votes will be counted on November 26.
The terms of two other newly-created municipal corporations of Gandhinagar and Junagadh, also under BJP rule, expire after six months and four years respectively.
The November 29 voting will be for 230 taluka (tehsil) panchayats, 56 nagarpalikas (municipalities) and 31 district panchayats. The vote count is due on December 2.
There are 3.66 million voters in the municipalities, while the taluka panchayats account for the largest electorate of 22.3 million voters. The mandate from the taluka panchayat areas is considered crucial since they comprise a mix of urban and rural population.
At present, the BJP controls 150 taluka panchayats, 42 municipalities and 30 district panchayats, excluding that of tribal-dominated Tapi in south Gujarat which is with the Congress.
The uncanny nervousness in the BJP government was evident when it promulgated an ordinance postponing the local body elections citing law and order concerns in the wake of the agitation by the Patel community.
The BJP had to face these elections after the State Election Commission was pulled up by the Gujarat High Court, which described as unconstitutional the move to put off the electoral process. It wondered why elections to local bodies could not be held when polling could be conducted in strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir.
(Darshan Desai can be contacted at email@example.com)