The Bharatiya Janata Party is ahead in five of the six municipal corporations, but the Congress is making huge inroads in rural areas of Gujarat as votes in local body elections are being counted on Wednesday.
Latest available updates show the Congress trending in 14 and the BJP in 13 district panchayats out of a total of 31 in the state. In taluka panchayats the Congress is ahead in 64 and the BJP in 76.
The Congress was ahead in small towns as well, leading in 18 nagar palikas as against the BJP’s 12, in the first major elections in the state after Anandiben Patel took over from Narendra Modi as chief minister.
The BJP was ahead in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar, while it was neck and neck with the Congress in Surat, which was the nerve centre of the recent Patidar reservation protests led by Hardik Patel.
However, in Hardik’s home area, ward number 2 of Viramgam nagarpalika, the BJP won all the four seats. But local leaders of the party were losing in many rural areas which were its strongholds.
BJP’s Rajkot district president Nagdan Chavda lost his Bedi seat in the Rajkot district panchayat. The party’s Rajkot city president Bhiku Vasoya has lost too.
The Congress won the Morbi, Botad and Gandhinagar district panchayats. While Gandhinagar is a Congress bastion, the other two are newly formed district headquarters.
The polls are dubbed a test for the ruling BJP, coming against the backdrop of violence-ridden Patel quota stir and the party’s crushing defeat in the Bihar assembly election.
Voting for six municipal corporations was held on November 26, while that for 31 district panchayats, 230 taluka panchayats and 56 municipalities was held on November 29.
The six municipal corporations registered only 45% voter turnout, but elsewhere it was over 60%.
All the municipal corporations — Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar — are under the BJP’s control but the Congress is hoping to make a comeback in the state, cashing in on the Patel community’s resentment against the ruling party. The BJP rules local bodies in rural and semi-urban areas too.
The elections are seen as a challenge for the BJP and chief minister Anandiben as Patel leaders demanding inclusion of the community in the OBC reservation list had appealed to voters to vote for the Congress.
Hardik Patel, the 22-year-old spearheading the Patel stir, is in jail for more than a month now facing sedition charges.
The chief minister, during campaigning in Amreli, said Patels or Patidars cannot be given reservation in the OBC category. “It is not possible in accordance with constitutional provisions,” she said.
BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani and party chief Amit Shah were in their native state to vote in the first round. Prime Minister Modi, who as chief minister had introduced compulsory voting in civic elections, couldn’t vote because the poll date clashed with his visit to Malaysia for the ASEAN summit.
Voting was not mandatory, though, as the high court had stayed the state government’s order.
(With inputs from agencies)