Congress received a major jolt as it lost power in Amreli, Savarkundla and Bagasara municipalities in Amreli district as its candidates lost elections to posts of president and vice-presidents in these civic bodies on Thursday.
Councillors of ruling Congress rebelled in Amreli and Savarkundla municipalities and ousted their party from power by joining forces with councillors of opposition BJP. Led by Jayantibhai Ranva, a group of 15 Congress councillors rebelled in Amreli municipality. With the help of five BJP councillors and four Independents, the rebels elected Ranva as new president of the municipality and Shakil Saiyad as vice-president. They defeated Baluben Parmar and Sandeep Dhanani, the Congress candidates for the twin post respectively.
The reversal in fortunes for Congress comes two-and-a-half-year after it won 35 out of 44 seats in the general election to Amreli municipality. The election to post of president and vice-president was warranted as incumbents completed their tenures of two-and-a-half-year.
A similar scenario was witnessed in Savarkundla municipality of the district. Congress had 20 councillors in the 36-member general board of the civic body. The BJP had 16. But in the election for the post of president and vice president, held on Thursday, four Congress councillors defected to the BJP, tipping the scales in favour of the opposition party. With the help of BJP councillors, Congress rebel Vipul Unava managed to win election to the post of president by defeating Congress nominee Nasir Chauhan. Paresh Hingu of BJP won election to the post of vice-president by defeating Congress candidate Hitesh Saraiya.
The third defeat of the day for Congress came in Bagasara municipality as an independent withdrew support and instead sided with the BJP. The defections and consequent defeats come around six months after Congress wept all the five Assembly seats in Amreli district in December last year. Amreli municipality is part of Assembly constituency of Paresh Dhanani, the leader of Opposition in Gujarat Assembly.
Ranva said he had to rebel as Paresh Dhanani had reneged from the promises he had made. “In the run-up to the election, Paresh Dhanani declared that the one with the backing of a highest number of councillors will get to contest election to the post of president. I mustered support of 22 councillors. But afterwards, Dhanani said he had no power to decide and told me that we will have to accept candidate decided by party leaders. As a matter of fact, he wanted his brother Sandeep Dhanani get elected to the post of vice-president and install Baluben Parmar, who has studied till only Class-IV as rubber-stamp president. I objected to this plan, saying it was not acceptable when it was turn of Dalits to become president of the civic body,” Ranva told The Indian Express.
He added that he would neither return to Congress nor side with the BJP but would form a new outfit to run the municipality.
Congress spokesperson Manish Dohi, however, warned the rebels of action and termed the defeats result of the “BJP strategy to win by hook or by crook.” “After it was wiped out from entire Amreli district in the Assembly election last year, BJP was desperate to regain some ground. For doing that, it devised a strategy to win by hook or by crook. It is applying all its might to get back municipalities and panchayats from Congress. We could not prevent the rebellion and defections as there might have been mistakes in selecting candidates. But we shall take action against those not following the party line. At the same time, we shall also address any communication gap or any lack of coordination,” said Doshi.
But BJP said the results merely reflected the wish of the local people. “Top party leaders are not involved in these local elections. The results reflect the wish of residents in these civic bodies. This is not horse-trading. If some Congress councillors sided with the BJP thinking development of their towns will get a boost as the BJP is ruling state and the country, they are welcome,” said Raju Dhruv, BJP spokesman for Saurashtra region.