The Congress failed to hold on to the Bhavnagar district panchayat after two of its members defected to the BJP during the election to the post of president and vice-president on Wednesday. However, Rajkot and a few other district panchayats in Saurasthra region proved to be a saving grace for the Congress as its members stuck together to ensure continuity in power.
Congress members Jagabhai Baraiya and Bhanubhai Chauhan defected to the BJP and another Congress member, Hiraben Aviya, abstained from voting as she did not attend the general board meeting of the district panchayat. The defection and abstention reduced the effective strength of the ruling Congress to 19 in the 40-member general board. The tally of the BJP, on the other hand, inched up to 20.
BJP candidate Vaktuben Makwana was elected as the new president after she defeated her Congress rival Hansaben Gohil by a single vote. The post of vice-president also went to the BJP after its candidate BK Gohil again won by a vote.
The results mark a dramatic turnaround from the 2015 general election to the Bhavnagar district panchayat. Congress had upstaged the BJP in the general election by winning 23 seats while BJP, which was in power, could manage only 17. The Congress strength had come down to 22 after the party lost the bye-election to a seat which had fallen vacant due to the death of its member. The defection of Baraiya and Chauhan is significant as both of them were serving as chairman of irrigation and health committees respectively.
Makwana and Gohil will replace Sanjaysinh Sarviaya and Bavchand Limbani respectively of the Congress. The election was warranted after Sarvaiya and Limbani completed their two-and-a-half-year tenure.
There were fears of rebellion in Rajkot district panchayat as well as some Congress members were reportedly in touch with the opposition BJP. However, Congress leaders managed to keep their members together and Apla Khatariya was elected as the new president without any trouble. Subhash Makadiya was elected vice-president. They got 32 votes each against their BJP rivals Dhruapadba Jadeja and Bhanuben Talapada, who failed to get a single vote.
Bhanu Talapada was elected to Rajkot district panchayat in 2015 as a Congress candidate. However, in the run-up to the election to the posts of president and vice-president, she and fellow Congress member Kiran Aandipara had gravitated towards the BJP. But during the election held on Wednesday, Jadeja, Talapada and Aandipara were a no-show. Neither did Sonal Shingala, the other BJP member in the 36-member general board of Rajkot district panchayat, attend the election meeting.
The Congress had captured Rajkot district panchayat in 2015 by thumping the ruling BJP. Congress had won 34 out of 36 seats in the general board of the panchayat while the BJP managed to win just two.
Khatariya, who is the wife of Arjun Khatariya, the chairman of the outgoing executive committee of Rajkot district panchayat, will replace Nilesh Virani. Similarly, Makadiya will replace Avsar Nakiya.
Meanwhile, the Congress ensured continuity in power in Jamnagar and Devbhoomi Dwarka district panchayats after its members won election to the posts of presidents and vice-presidents.
Congress had captured eight out of 11 district panchayats in Saurashtra for which general election was held in 2015. Subsequently, the party had also won 28 out of 48 Assembly seats in Saurashtra region in the Assembly election held last year while the BJP’s count had come down to 19 from 30. However, in the mid-term elections to posts of president and vice-presidents of panchayats and municipalities this month, Congress has seen some hiccups. It lost power in Amreli, Savarkundla and Bagasara municipalities recently due to rebellion. However, the party staged a comeback of sorts as it snatched Rajula and Jafrabad district panchayats from the BJP on Tuesday.