The Congress party’s dismal performance in the Municipal Corporation polls in Vadodara and Rajkot has caused a dent in its chances to qualify as an Opposition party and be part of various civic committees at the local level. The seats won by the party were reduced to seven from 14 in Vadodara and four from 34 in Rajkot.
In absence of clear rules prescribed in the Gujarat Provincial Municipal Corporations Act, 1949, the ruling parties will now decide the scope of the opposition in both cities, as per the traditional practice.
In Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC), BJP leaders say that the party will be recognised as the Opposition as the GPMC Act does not prescribe any minimum required number for an opposition party in civic bodies. However, the reduced strength would mean that the party will lose its chance to be part of the VMC committees and the VMC School Board, where Congress had a representation.
Of the 12 seats of School Board members, one is reserved for an SC or ST candidate while three are reserved for candidates holding matriculation or higher education degrees. The remaining eight seats are for general candidates. Each of the 76 corporators can vote in all three categories. However, the provision allows each corporator to choose if the “eight” votes for the general seats should be cast as one vote for each contesting candidate or in favour of one candidate.
A VMC official said, “Either way, Congress with seven corporators will not be able to find the eighth vote as BJP corporators are unlikely to cross vote… So the chance of the Congress to find representation in the school board is next to negligible.”
The ruling parties of the VMC discontinued the practice of including opposition leaders in the Standing Committee since the early 1990s. “The practice was discontinued by the Congress itself in the last board that it formed before the BJP took over. The BJP has thereafter continued the same exercise…,” a senior BJP leader said.
The BJP, however, plans to continue including the Congress corporator for the various committees for day-to-day decisions on specific subjects. “In the last board, since the opposition was 18 in number (four RSP corporators, along with 14 Congress corporators), there were two opposition leaders, each, included in the eight committees that are formed under the VMC… This time, since they are only seven, they will be included accordingly. The final call will be taken once the board is formed,” a BJP leader said.
In the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC), Congress managed to win just four out of 72 seats against 34 in 2015 — four seats short to qualify as the designated Opposition party. However, BJP leaders say that the ruling party would recognise Congress as the Opposition and would extend all attendant privileges as, they say, a strong Opposition is a prerequisite of a healthy democracy.
“It has been a tradition in RMC that BJP, whenever in power, offers two seats on the standing committee to Congress and also recognises it as the Opposition party irrespective of the number of seats it got… The Congress got only one seat in the 1995 election and yet the BJP had recognised Ladhabhai Borsadiya, the lone Congress winner, as Leader of Opposition… This time, Congress has won four seats but we shall continue with our tradition…,” said Kamlesh Mirani, president of Rajkot city unit of the BJP.
Mirani said that the BJP would also offer Congress seats on the RMC standing committee. “Another tradition in Rajkot has been to offer to the Opposition two seats on the standing committee and we would like to carry it forward this time also. This despite the fact that when it was in power from 2005 to 2010, Congress had not offered representation to BJP on the standing committee. But we believe a strong Opposition is a perquisite of a healthy democracy…,” the BJP leader added.
Vashram Sagathiya, the Leader of Opposition in the outgoing general board of the RMC and one of the four Congress winners this time, said, he would try prevent the BJP from running the civic body in an autocratic manner.
“It is true that our numbers in the general board this time are small, but we shall discharge the duty of a strong Opposition party. We will not allow the BJP to rule the RMC in an autocratic manner,” said Sagathiya.
Municipal secretary of RMC, Harish Ruparelia, said the civic body does not have formal intimation about the new members of the general board. “Once the notification is out, the municipal commissioner will call the first meeting of the new general board to elect new mayor, deputy mayor, 12 members of the standing committee and members of the 15 other sub-committees,” said Ruparelia.
According to a senior official of the VMC, “The GPMC Act does not define any rules for ‘Leader of Opposition’. It is done in understanding between the ruling party and the Opposition.”
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