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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Explained: Why Gandhinagar civic body polls are important in Gujarat politics

Scheduled for October 3, the Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation election will be the last big contest before the crucial Gujarat Assembly polls in 2022.

Written by Avinash Nair , Edited by Explained Desk | Ahmedabad |
Updated: September 9, 2021 7:46:14 am
Formed in 2010, Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation (GMC) is part of the larger Lok Sabha constituency of Gandhinagar, currently represented by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. (File Photo: PTI)

Polls to the Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation (GMC), that governs Gujarat’s capital city, have always been a close contest between the BJP and the Congress. With State Election Commission (SEC) announcing October 3 as the election date, this will be the last big contest before the crucial state Assembly polls in 2022.

Why are Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation elections important?

Formed in 2010, Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation (GMC) is part of the larger Lok Sabha constituency of Gandhinagar, currently represented by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Though one of the smallest municipal corporations, Gandhinagar city is home to a large number of state government employees and officials, who are among the 2.82 lakh voters living in the 326-sqkm area of the state capital.

For the polls, while BJP’s pitch is likely to be development, the Congress is focussing on “Covid-19 mismanagement”.

That the election is important is evident from the fact that minutes before the declaration of the dates, the Vijay Rupani government announced it would raise dearness allowance by 11 per cent with effect from July 2021, which would be handed out in the September salaries. This will impact around 9.61 lakh employees and pensioners.

“Being the state capital, this election is important to us. Looking at the results of other municipal corporations held in February 2021 (BJP won six municipal corporations), we are confident of sweeping the polls in Gandhinagar,” said Yamal Vyas, BJP spokesperson in Gujarat.

Leader of opposition in the Gujarat Assembly Paresh Dhanani, however, said the Congress would post a strong performance.

“We will do well this time too. When people blindly supported the government, they could not provide hospitals beds, medicines or oxygen to them in need during Covid. In a RTI query filed by us, the death register for Gandhinagar city show only 2,043 people died in calendar year 2019. In 2020, the death figures went up to 4,143 and by May 10, 2021, a total of 1,109 people had died in the city. Covid has hurt people. We are already undertaking a Covid Nyay Yatra, where we are visiting homes of each Covid victim, including in Gandhinagar.”

Dhanani said the Congress was fighting to provide compensation to kin of Covid victims and was ensuring that the plight of each affected family is heard.

This will also be the first time Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will contest the polls. With Bahujan Samajwadi Party already in the picture, it remains to be seen whose votes they are likely to dent. AAP has also begun a Jan Samvedna yatra to pay homage to Covid-19 victims.

What has changed in Gandhinagar since the last election?

Apart from a redeveloped railway station and a luxury hotel by the Leela group perched above – touted to be the first such railway station in the country – work on Phase-II of the metro rail project that will link Gandhinagar to Ahmedabad by 2024 has also started. The city is also home to a number of people who work in the nearby GIFT City, which has started generating jobs in the immediate periphery of the municipal corporation area.

In the last five years, the city has introduced open-to-air free WiFi services that is popular among youth along with an internet protocol based surveillance system.

Though Gandhinagar has lost a significant amount of tree cover on the SG Road that links it to Ahmedabad, it has gained at least three flyovers that have made travelling between the two cities easier. Shah himself has inaugurated flyovers in the state capital recently.

Just before election dates were out, the Gujarat government also announced renovating and modernising the four-decade-old Town Hall in the capital.

How have political parties fared in past elections?

Elections to GMC have not been easy for the ruling BJP. The maiden election to the body was held in April 2011, where Congress won 18 of the 33 seats, while BJP finished with 15 seats. The first mayor of the city was a Congressman, Mahendrasinh Rana, who in 2012 defected to the BJP along with two other Congress members, thus giving the saffron party a majority in the council.

By 2016, the number of seats had reduced to 32 after a delimiation exercise. In the next polls, BJP improved its tally, but remained tied with Congress, with 16 seats each. Within a couple of weeks, Congress councillor Pravin Patel and one of his associate switched sides to the BJP, thus giving the saffron party a second consecutive term in office. Patel was subsequently elected mayor of Gandhinagar.

Why were the polls postponed earlier this year?

The polls were scheduled to be held on April 18, 2021. However, just eight days before the polls, the State Election Commission (SEC) postponed them, citing the “serious” Covid situation.

Now, with zero new Covid cases reported in Gandhinagar city, the SEC announced fresh polling date on October 3.

However, only candidates who filed their nominations in April will be allowed to contest. Exception has been made for BSP and AAP, whose nominated candidates in ward 8 and 9 respectively passed away.

Secondly, the SEC will take into account the poll-related expenditure made by candidates in April and will allow only them to spend the remaining amount.

Apart from Gandhinagar, on October 3, general elections will also be held for Okha municipality in Dev Bhoomi Dwarka district, and Thara municipality in Banaskantha district. Mid-term polls for Bhanwad municipality in Devbhoomi Dwarka district, bypolls for two seats of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and one seat of Junagadh Municipal Corporation, 45 seats of 29 municipalities, eight seats of seven district panchayats and 48 seats of 41 district panchayats will also go to polls the same day.

Results will be declared on October 5.

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