Among the losers of the local body election was the Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), which was contesting the district and taluka panchayat elections on its new identity after breaking away from JD(U) ahead of the 2017 Gujarat Assembly polls, and in alliance with All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM).
In 2015, the BTP, in alliance with Congress, had managed to establish a hold on two district panchayats in Narmada and Bharuch as well as three taluka panchayats in Dediapada and Sagbara in Narmada district and Netrang in Bharuch district.
Despite backing tribal protests in Narmada against government land acquisition for the development of the Kevadia tourism circuit and the opposition to the eco-sensitive zone status to 121 villages, the BTP found itself struggling to secure votes in all seats.
The BJP, which recorded a landslide win in Narmada district — a Congress bastion in the local body polls, wiped out the Congress and BTP in the district panchayat as well as five taluka panchayats.
Out of 22 Narmada district panchayat seats, BJP won 19 and Congress two and BTP managed to retain one seat. In 2015, Con-gress had 10 and BTP six (as JDU), paving the way for an alliance to take power in the panchayat.
Besides, the BJP wrested power in all five taluka panchayats of Narmada — Tilakwada, Dediapada, Nandod, Sagbara and Garudeshwar. The BJP had been in power only in the Garudeshwar taluka panchayat after the previous polls while the Congress and the BTP had managed to form the board in Dediapada and Sagbara.
The BTP’s election campaign, which stressed on tribal rights and eco-sensitive zones being notified in 121 villages of Garudeshwar and Dediapada talukas, was unable to win a single seat in Garudeshwar and was reduced to two in Dediapada taluka panchayat from 12 seats in 2015. The contest between BJP and BTP candidates was a close one for the Dediapada taluka panchayat seats, the BJP took the cake.
In the Bharuch district panchayat, five-time elected representative Anil Bhagat, who is a close aide of Chhotu Vasava, lost from Walia seat as a BTP candidate. Chhotu’s son Dilip, who contested from Rajpardi seat, also lost. His wife, Varsha, was the sitting president of Jhagadia taluka panchayat. Paresh Vasava, brother-in-law of BTP president Mahesh Vasava, lost from Mouza seat.
BTP president Mahesh Vasava, an MLA from Dediapada, was unavailable for comment but his father and BTP supremo Chhotu Vasava, also an MLA from Jhagadia in Bharuch district told The Indian Express, “We do not accept this result at face value. We are sure the people have voted for us. The BJP has misused the government machinery for its benefits. They distributed election sops and tampered with EVMs… We will approach the High Court with a petition against this result…”
Vasava, who did not venture to campaign due to ill health shot down questions if the BTP suffered due to its tie-up with AIMIM, even as party leaders spoke of it being the reason behind the debacle in hushed tones. He said, “There was no problem with the alliance. We are set to challenge this verdict.”
A senior party functionary of the BTP said, “People turn to the BTP and Chhotubhai to resolve their issues but they did not vote as expected. We will need to introspect… The tribal mindset is such that they consider how much ‘power’ will the party have in resolving their issues. BJP tribal leaders were also against the implementation of the eco-sensitive zone notification and it helped it earn some brownie points.”
The BJP also registered a win in the Kevadia seat of Narmada district panchayat, which consists of six villages around the Statue of Unity area that were protesting the land acquisition by the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) in Kevadia, Vaghadia, Limdi, Gora, Navagam and Kothi in May 2020.
Despite the opposition of the affected villages, BJP candidate Dinesh Tadvi — who was leading the protests earlier — won by 82 votes, beating the Congress candidate Ranjitsinh Tadvi, son of sitting district panchayat member Dilip Jesinh Tadvi.
In the Bharuch district panchayat, five-time elected representative Anil Bhagat, who is a close aide of Chhotu Vasava, lost from Walia seat as a BTP candidate. Chhotu’s son Dilip, who contested from Rajpardi seat, also lost — his wife, Varsha, was the sitting president of Jhagadia taluka panchayat. Paresh Vasava, the brother-in-law of BTP president Mahesh Vasava, lost from Mouza seat.
Paresh Vasava was sitting chairman of Agricultural produce cooperative of the Bharuch District Panchayat as well as part of the irrigation committee while Bhagat was the vice-president of Bharuch district panchayat that ended its term in December, and also the chairman of the executive committee.
In 2015, the JD(U) and Congress seized power in Bharuch district panchayat as an alliance with JD(U) getting nine seats and Congress 13 — the tally was reduced to three and four, respectively, on Monday. Similarly, in three taluka panchayat Walia, Jhagadia and Netrang, JD(U) candidates won with full majority. The JD(U) was in power in the Jhagadia taluka panchayat for three consecutive terms.
Bhagat told this newspaper, “This time our performance was not good. People have not voted for us. We are analysing the factors responsible for our candidates’ defeat.
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