The BJP government is in a fix as it prepares the reply to a notice by the Supreme Court which stayed the municipal elections on technical grounds earlier this month.
The government could have file a review plea in the apex court, but it chose to reply to the notice, weighing the political fallout of holding local body at a time when BJP is facing anger of the Patidar community over OBC quota demand. The elections to seven municipal corporations, district and taluka panchayats are due soon.
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The government, which is likely to file its reply in a day or two, stands sufficiently warned by the recent incidents of political leaders being chased out of public events, and even signboards coming up in Patidar neighbourhoods, barring entry to politicians. The Patidars, so far, have been BJP’s most loyal votebank, and it cannot afford to ignore anger among the community members.
Recently, BJP MLA from Unjha Narayan Patel sat on a fast to protest alleged police atrocities on the Patidars during the August 25 violence, and even former chief minister Keshubhai Patel did not hesitate to “bless” Hardik Patel hours before the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti leader was to meet Chief Minister Anandiben Patel on Monday.
Sources said BJP’s planning for the local body election has gone haywire. “All functions in the near future by Chief Minister Anandiben Patel in Patidar-dominated districts in north Gujarat, central Gujarat and Saurashtra have been put on hold. The party and the government have decided to wait and watch,” said a BJP source.
Sensing an opportunity, Congress is slowly warming up to the Patidars. On Tuesday, Vijapur Congress MLA Prahlad Patel sat on a hunger strike to pay tribute to those killed during the widespread violence following a mega Patidar rally in Ahmedabad on August 25. Last week, Palanpur Congress MLA Mahesh Patel had extended support to the Patidar agitation by accepting a rose from Hardik.
From BJP, however, only Narayan Patel has sat on a protest.
On Tuesday, a day after Chief Minister Anandiben Patel agreed to look in to the demands by the Patidars for action against policemen within 10 days, she called a meeting of all ministers and MLAs at her office in Swarnim Sankul-I to discuss the issue. The Patidars have been demanding action against those policemen responsible for the crackdown during the August 25 rally.
Speaking on the Supreme Court notice, a top minister said: “The government is likely to file reply to the Supreme Court notice that has questioned multi-member system in Corporations and Nagarpalikas”. The court in response to a petition filed by four Vadodara residents had on September 4 ordered stay on the elections and sent notice to the government.
“There was a choice of filing review petition against the stay immediately after the SC notice. Instead, the government has been preparing reply to the notice. The process of filing response has been handled at a pace that it will meet the deadline of September 20,” said a top-level officer from the State Election Commission. The stay came only a couple of days before the election commission was set to come out with notification for elections in over 300 local bodies, including six municipal corporations.
The petition had challenged the representation of one ward by four councillors. The election commission has been preparing arguments in favour of the multi-member system by citing constitutional provisions.
On Monday, Minister of State for Health Shanker Chaudhary and Minister of State for Education Vasuben Trivedi cancelled their visit to a college in Patan with reports of the Patidar women set to register protest beating steel plates with rolling pins. Last week, BJP vice-president Purshottam Rupala and Minister of State for Home Rajnikant Patel were forced to leave separate events in Mehsana district.