In a remarkable turnaround, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) snatched Gondal taluka panchayat back from Congress in the midterm panchayat election results announced on Tuesday. The saffron party returned to power less than a year after it was defeated by Congress in the general election to the panchayat body held last year, during the height of Patidar quota agitation.
Polling for all the 22 seats of Gondal taluka panchayat in Rajkot district was held on Sunday and counting of votes was taken up on Tuesday. BJP won 18 seats while the Congress could manage only four. This represents a big turnaround in the taluka panchayat as Congress had won 12 seats while BJP had managed only 10 in 2015.
In the midterm election, Congress won Moviya-1, Moviya-2, Shreenathgadh and Ghoghavadar seats, all dominated by Patidars. Congress had repeated four of its 12 candidates who had won in 2015. But only Bhagwatsinh Vaghela, who was elected president of the 2015 board of the taluka panchayat could retain his seat from Sreenathgadh while Jagruti Padmani, Rambhai Gamara and
Vrajlal Bhasa lost. On the other hand, BJP had repeated seven of its 10 members and all of them won. The winners included Siddhrajsinh Jadeja who was vice-president in the superseded body.
Despite winning a majority in the 2015 polls, Congress struggled to control the board of the panchayat from the day one. Aruna Thummar, who was elected from Kamadhiya seat on a Congress ticket, defected to BJP during the election of president and vice-president of the panchayat. This resulted in both Congress and BJP candidates getting 11 votes each. To break the tie, draw of lots was conducted in which the post of president had gone to Congress while vice-president post was won by BJP. Congress’ troubles did not end there as Thummar, wife of BJP worker Ahswin Thummar, who had deserted the saffron party briefly during Patidar quota agitation, voted against the party in two budget meetings. Consequently, Congress failed to pass the budget for the year 2016-17 in three attempts, and the state government eventually superseded the taluka panchayat on June 20 this year.
Interestingly, neither Aruna nor her husband were given ticket for the midterm election, with local BJP leaders claiming that she had opted out of the taluka panchayat election as she intended to contest the village panchayat elections.
Dinesh Chovatiya, president of Rajkot district unit of Congress, claimed his party suffered defeat due to pressure tactics of the BJP. “BJP resorted to goondaism and hooliganism to come back to power. BJP-ruled state government did not allow taluka panchayat and district panchayats to spend from their grants after these bodies were won by Congress last year,” Chovatiya said.
Incidentally, violence was reported from Harmadiya village of Ambardi seat on the polling day and Congress candidate Geeta Bhundiya’s husband and one other person were injured in clashes between Congress and BJP workers. But Mukesh Mandanka, president of Gondal taluka unit of Congress, said he suspected that the EVMs were tampered with. “Almost all our candidates have lost by a margin of around 1,000 votes or more. This is unbelievable given the positive reports we had got from our workers after the polling day. We suspect EVMs have been manipulated. We shall report the matter to our state leaders and seek guidance for future course of action,” said Mandanka.
Out of the 22 seats, 15 are dominated by Patidars. In the November 2015 district and taluka panchayat elections in the state, Patidar quota leaders had exhorted their community members to vote against the BJP and teach the ruling party a lesson. Congress had apparently gained from the sentiment as it won almost all the taluka panchayat and district panchayat in Saurashtra. But in the midterm election to Gondal taluka panchayat, Congress lost even Deradi seat which has remained epicenter of quota stir in the taluka. Deradi was the seat from where Jayanti Dhol, general secretary of Rajkot district unit of BJP and a local heavyweight had lost Rajkot district panchayat election last year.
But BJP leaders trashed allegations of EVM tampering. “Congress levels such allegations after every poll defeat. It tempering was possible, we could have won 18 seats last year also. The fact is that people have voted for us. Last year, youth had voted against us. This time round, we focused on them and held meetings for them. Also the demonitisation issue played in our favour,” said Aplesh Dholariya, president of Gondal taluka unit of the BJP.