Consider the BJP’s predicament. Their most loyal support base– the Patidars– are angry and putting forth a demand that is difficult to meet under the current constitutional provisions; the Congress has extended support to them;. the other backward classes, (OBCs) ostensibly worried that the Patidars would grab their space, have teamed up with the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under one umbrella.
Not the best of situations for the BJP to go in for a local election that would decide governing bodies right up to the taluka level.
So the very BJP, then under chief minister Narendra Modi, that had wanted to advance the Gujarat assembly elections soon after the 2002 communal riots, is now saying that the situation is not conducive for free and fair elections and wants to put off the elections to six municipal corporations, 31 district panchayats, 230 taluka panchayats and 56 municipalities – elections which will be an acid test in the post-Modi Gujarat led by his successor Anandiben Patel.
In 2002, even when the state government’s own CID (Intelligence) had repoerted that 154 of 182 assembly constituencies had been affected by the post Godhra riots, and several people, mostly Muslims, had been displaced and disenfranchised, the Modi-led government had argued in favour of assembly elections, and eventually gained by the polarization.
As Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela said, “The then government had presented the peaceful passage of the rath yatra, the Tazia and the conduct of the Classes X and XII board exams as evidence of peace to push for its case to conduct early polls, in 2002. Is the case worse now than that year?”.
However, a caste uprising by Patidars, which at 14-20 per cent of the electorate is capable of oversetting the BJP apple cart, cannot be a good sign for the government led by a Patel chief minister with six Patel ministers, 37 Patel MLAs, and a Patel as party chief.
The last caste agitation in 1985 proved a death knell for the Congress which had been dominating the state election scenario till then.
This time, it could prove the same thing for the BJP, whose Patel leaders also look alienated from the community. Also rural bodies are the not the best bet for the BJP to begin an election series with, given that Patidars are essentially agrarian –their rural base and the agitation would reflect on the vote.
The Supreme Court stayed elections to the six municipal corporations at least till November 24 which is the next date of hearing of a petition challenging the multiple representation in the municipal corporations for each ward.
This already indicated that the six municipal corporations of Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar, all ruled by the BJP, would be superseded by administrators, the terms of their elected boards having ended.
However, the way was clear for holding elections to the municipalities, district and taluka panchayats, all of which are due anytime now. “But the BJP would never hold these elections before the municipal corporations, because while a municipal corporation outcome, which is usually a cakewalk for the BJP, can influence panchayats and nagarpalikas, the same is not the case in the event of a contrary scenario as has emerged now”, says a Congress leader.
There are other factors-. The Patidars are embarrassing the government, both in Gujarat and beyond. Especially Hardik Patel’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), which has niw gone national. Locally, they have disrupted public meetings by political leaders with mobs of women clanking rolling pins on steel plates, they have called for raising placards even at the India-South Africa cricket match in Rajkot, and have now launched their kids’ edition in Surat, to be known as the ‘Tappu Sena’.
The Anandiben government has bent over backwards for them after the August 25-26 violence which claimed the lives of eight Patidars. She invited them for talks, where nothing about quota was discussed, and announced a “generous” package for underprivileged students, which Hardik promptly called a “lollipop”.
PAAS has also called for Patidars to pick the NOTA option, in the event of an election, which makes it clear that it will be an anti-BJP vote.
The last time local self governments were superseded was in 1992 after the Babri masjid demolition that led to communal riots and polarisation. The BJP was just gaining ground in Gujarat, having routed the Congress in the 1987 municipal corporation elections.
This will, however, be the first time after the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution which empowered local self government bodies were effected in 1995, that local bodies in Gujarat, will be superseded.
These amendments during the Rajiv Gandhi regime, provided for reservations to weaker sections introducing for the first time 33 per cent reservation for women while denouncing supersession of local bodies.
The State Election Commission, (SEC) which is an arm of the state government and the presiding body for local elections, is obviously toeing the political line, when it says that “looking at the scope of the elections to local self government bodies, and the law and order situation in the state, It felt that the situation was not conducive to hold elections in a free, fair and peaceful atmosphere”.