The efforts of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to wrest control of the Gandhinagar district panchayat from the Congress party paid off on Monday when nine of the 19 Congress members in the 27-member body joined it in the presence of vice-presidents I K Jadeja and Kaushik Patel. Those joining the BJP include sitting president of the panchayat body, Hina Patel, whose term had ended on July 25.
With this, the BJP has gained control of 25 out of 26 district panchayat bodies in Gujarat. This ends four years of Congress rule in the panchayat body, where a general election is due in 2015. Of the nine members defecting to the BJP, five are women. Interestingly, a member, Ushaben Patel, who had met with an accident recently, was brought in a wheelchair to the party office to announce her decision to move to the BJP. Prior to this, rebel Congress members were already running a signature campaign against panchayat president Hina Patel on the one hand and were in touch with the BJP leadership on the other.
The Congress leadership was telling Hinaben to step down in the wake of growing discontentment against her, but instead of doing that, she, along with eight other members, joined the BJP.
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According to sources, Hinaben was reluctant to quit her post in view of the power that goes with her post, enabling her to clear applications for conversion of agricultural land into non-agricultural (NA) land. A number of files for clearing NA cases at present are pending and it is believed that the current rate for clearing one application is around Rs 10 lakh.
Apart from Hina Patel, the other eight members who joined the BJP on Monday are: Jyotsna Patel, Mangiben Patel, Sahdevsinh Jhala, Vijaysinh Chavda, Bhikhiben Patel, Ushaben Patel, Gabhaji Thakor and Gabhusinh Rathod.
Refuting allegations about NA application clearance, Patel said she had joined the BJP for the development of “Gandhinagar district as a model for the rest of India”. “I have drawn inspiration from the first woman chief minister Anandi Patel’s efforts at women’s empowerment and the overall development of the state after taking over from her predecessor Narendra Modi,” she said. Asked if she had any problem in the Congress, she said she would not want to discuss the past. “There is bound to be some noise when vessels are put together,” she said.
Gujarat Pradesh Congress president Arjun Modhwadia said the BJP had been busy practising “unethical politics” and engineering defections by luring other party members. “They stand disqualified as members of the panchayat and we will challenge the defection in court,” he said.