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Thursday, February 25, 2021

2015 allies gone, Congress faces an aggressive BJP alone in 2021

The Congress leadership, which hinted at a possible mistake in strategy and alleged misuse of the state machinery by the ruling BJP, however, maintain they are confident the party will win on a majority of the remaining seats.

Written by PARIMAL DABHI | Ahmedabad |
Updated: February 20, 2021 8:33:30 am
Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, Surat Municipal Corporation, Vadodara Municipal Corporation, Congress Gujarat, BJP Gujarat, Gujarat local body polls, india news, indian expressCongress leadership, which hinted at a possible mistake in strategy and alleged misuse of the state machinery by the ruling BJP. (File)

THE GUJARAT Congress cancelled Friday its only major rally in Surat city, a constituency where the party had gained 17 seats in the Patidar-dominated areas in the 2015 municipal corporation elections as compared to 2010 when it had only nine seats, ostensibly for fear of a showdown with the Patidars.

While the Congress’s 2015 gain was largely attributed to the anti-BJP sentiment caused by the quota agitation by the Hardik Patel-founded Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), its major face-off with the latter in Surat over ticket distribution may mean a shrunken fortune for the party this time.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), meanwhile, has claimed to have won on 219 of the total 7,038 seats in the six municipal corporations, 81 municipalities, 31 district panchayats and 231 taluka panchayats, elections for which are due in two parts on February 21 and 28. Its claim stemming from factors like the main opposition party either not Congress putting candidates in an entire body, its candidates withdrawing because of internal disputes or forms being rejected for technical reasons.

The Congress leadership, which hinted at a possible mistake in strategy and alleged misuse of the state machinery by the ruling BJP, however, maintain they are confident the party will win on a majority of the remaining seats.

With the Congress candidates having withdrawn nominations, the BJP candidates are posed to win uncontested on one seat at Naranpura ward of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, one in Surat Municipal Corporation, 21 of the 36 seats at Una municipality in Gir-Somnath district, and 26 of the 36 seats at Kadi municipality in Mehsana district.

In ward number 3 of the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC), only one Congress candidate is currently in the fray after “disgruntled” PAAS leader and Congress’s candidate Dharmik Malaviya declined to file nomination at the last minute over allocation of tickets. Two other candidates, whom the Congress gave mandate, too, withdrew nominations subsequently following a call for the same by the PAAS.

Malaviya said, “We demanded three tickets for Vilasben Dhorajiya, Vijay Pansuriya and me from the Congress. Vilasben is the wife of Sanjay Dhorajiya, who is fighting the PAAS cases in the court for the last five years. The Congress had denied tickets to both of them. We have now parted ways with Congress and decided not to support their candidates in the upcoming municipal elections. Through our support, the Congress had got 26 municipal councillors in the last (2015) municipal elections.”

With this, the contest in ward no. 3 has been restricted to the BJP and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the latter is contesting in the local body polls in Gujarat for the first time, and is trying to create space for a third alternative.

Congress’s Surat unit president Babubhai Rayka said Vilasben Dhorajiya’s name was not included in the Congress list from ward no. 3 due to some “lack of communication”.

“It was a mistake. We are putting all our efforts to convince the PAAS team and have also assured that such a mistake will not be repeated in the future. We are also taking help from the Patidar community leaders staying in Surat city,” Rayka said.

In the Narmada district, the Congress has fielded only 12 candidates on 28 seats of the Rajpipla Municipality, relying on ‘tie ups’ with independent candidates to form a board. Although the party had contested all 28 seats in 2015, the BJP had formed the board with help of independents.

A senior Congress leader from the district said, “The Rajpipla Municipality is traditionally run by independents. None of the parties gets a majority. So, we decided to field candidates where the probability of winning is higher. The party has decided to be prudent in choosing the seats because we do not have the funds coming in like earlier to be able to campaign. Candidates who can afford to contest the election came forward and were given tickets. In any case, there are certain seats where the independents are most likely to win, so we will have to tie up with them if we have the numbers.”

Apart from PAAS, who had been formidable foot soldiers for the Congress, another political ally Chhotubhai Vasava who founded Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) after splitting from Janata Dal (U), has deserted Congress and joined with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), which is contesting in Gujarat for the first time. The Congress and JD(U) were in power in Bharuch and Narmada district panchayats and at least five taluka panchayats after the 2015 elections.

In the politically important Mehsana district, the party cadre has filed several complaints about the distribution of tickets. Following the complaints, the party leadership suspended Mehsana district president Rajendrasinh Darbar and former party general secretary Kirtisinh Zala.

In Mehsana’s Unjha municipality, Congress has not fielded a single candidate as compared to 2015, when the BJP had not fielded a single candidate on account of the disenchantment among Patidars caused by the quota agitation. Two BJP candidates here have been declared victorious unopposed.

Referring to Kadi, Una and Unjha outcomes, former Union minister and chairman of Congress’s Strategy Committee for the local body polls Bharatsinh Solanki said, “In such elections, more than the party, local factors like social equations, personal equations and family equations play a role. And because of that, it seems that some defect is there in fielding candidates and in setting basic organisation there. The (BJP) candidates would not have got elected uncontested had we given a little more attention there. However, apart from the seats declared uncontested, the Congress is definitely going to get a clear majority on the rest of the seats.”

Working president of Gujarat Congress Hardik Patel said the Congress candidates have won uncontested on 17 seats. “Surprising factor is that among the number of seats they (BJP) have won uncontested, in 70 per cent of them our candidates’ forms in rural areas had been rejected by elections officials on the ground that they (the candidates) do not have toilets at home. Is it possible that a person fighting election of district or taluka panchayat does not have a toilet at home? A lot of our candidates have faced injustice on that point. We have initiated legal process to challenge the same,” Hardik said.

This time the HC was also seized of petitions challenging various processes related to the local body polls. In the case of Palitana municipality, following an HC rap, nominations of 32 Congress candidates were accepted after they moved the court alleging their nominations were torn up and rejected.

On Friday, Hardik also alleged corruptive practices in the election process. “An election official was caught taking a bribe of Rs 3 lakh in Visnagar yesterday. In Jamnagar, bogus voting of postal ballots of Home Guards was going on without the knowledge of the collector yesterday. We brought the matter to the knowledge of the collector and the latter got it cancelled,” he said, alleging the state machinery of colluding with the ruling BJP.

Solanki, meanwhile, said the BJP has been decaying the heart of Panchayati Raj system by placing the decision-making power of elected representatives into the hands of a select few vested interests. “We are creating public awareness about that and were successful in last panchayat elections… Instead of talking about improving the Human Development Index, they (BJP leaders) are speaking about non-developmental issues, like love-jihad. Ours is a fight of ideology,” he said.

(With inputs from Kamaal Saiyed in Surat & Aditi Raja in Vadodara)

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