The Congress made a spectacular comeback in Gujarat on Wednesday, taking control of the rural local bodies in a stunning blow to the BJP in an election seen as a referendum on the ruling party’s state and central leadership.
The setback to the BJP in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah’s home state comes barely weeks after the party suffered an embarrassing defeat in the assembly polls in Bihar.
The BJP, however, managed to retain its hold on the urban centres but saw its seat share come down in the face of a Congress resurgence in all six municipal bodies.
A jubilant Congress, which was virtually obliterated from all tiers of the power structure in the state after losing almost every election in the last 12 years, termed its performance a “verdict against the BJP government”.
This was the first popularity test for chief minister Anandiben Patel after she took charge of Gujarat last year as the then chief minister Narendra Modi moved to Delhi as Prime Minister.
The polls had also gained significance in view of the agitation for reservation by the influential Patel community, also known as the Patidars. Elections to the 323 local bodies were conducted on November 22 and 29.
In a virtual role reversal, the Congress walked away with 132 taluka panchayat bodies followed by 73 for the BJP from a total of 231, while it bagged 21 of the 31 district panchayats.
The results of 25 taluka panchayats were still pending.
In 2010, the BJP had won 162 of the 208 talukas, 41 of 53 municipalities and 21 of 24 district panchayats.
In the three-tier local body system, the talukas – known as tehsils in some other states – form the second layer, sandwiched between the district panchayats and village panchayats.
In the urban areas, the BJP retained control over Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar municipal corporations, though the Congress put up a tough fight at several places.
The BJP attributed its loss in rural areas to the Patidar agitation.
“The BJP has done work in rural areas. But with the kind of social engineering done by the Congress of late, the results for the BJP are below expectations,” said the party’s state vice-president IK Jadeja.
“This is an overall mandate in favour of the Congress. Even in urban areas, with increased number of seats, we can say the Congress has been widely accepted,” said Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki.
In Delhi, senior leader Ahmed Patel, who is political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, said the BJP government was on its way out in Gujarat after the results.