Ahmedabad: Out of power for 20 years, the Congress on Wednesday made a stunning comeback in the rural areas of Gujarat when it won 21 of the 31 district panchayats, while the BJP retained its hold over urban pockets clinching all six municipal corporations and 40 of 56 municipalities.
After its battering in Bihar, now the loss in rural local bodies in Gujarat comes more than a year after Narendra Modi, who ruled the state for 12 years, shifted to Delhi.
Out of the total 31 district panchayats, Congress won 21 and BJP six, while in four others no party emerged a clear winner as the many independents and other candidates emerged victorious. The BJP had won 30 district panchayats in the last elections held in 2010.
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In 230 taluka panchayats having 4778 seats, the Congress won 2509, while BJP bagged 1981.
BJP, however, continued to be the preferred choice of the urban electorate, with the party clinching all six municipal corporations--Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara, Jamangar and Bhavnagar. BJP had won all these corporations in the 2010 polls too.
The party also won 40 of the 56 municipalities, while Congress bagged nine. In three municipalities, independents were winners and results were unclear in four others as none of the parties or independents got a clear majority. Congress had lifted six municipalities in 2010.
In the fight for prestigious Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, the BJP managed to get 143 seats out of the total of 192.
In a significant victory for BJP, the party won Viramgam municipality which is the home town of Patel quota agitation spearhead Hardik Patel.
The Congress was virtually obliterated from all tiers of power structure in the state after losing almost every election to BJP in the last 12 years under the leadership of then chief minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP had held sway over almost all the local bodies earlier in Modi's home state.
The civic polls were a major test of Chief Minister Anandiben Patel's popularity as these were the first important elections after Modi moved over to Delhi on becoming the Prime Minister.
The polls also came on the heels of the Patel quota stir. The politically influential Patels, who had hitherto supported BJP, were up in arms against the state government over police action during the quota agitation and the Congress had hoped to benefit from it.
The Patel leaders, who had launched the stir for inclusion of the caste under OBC category for reservation, had urged their community to vote against BJP and in favour of Congress.
Elated over the win, state Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki said, "This is a mini-election of sorts for the state, where Congress has won in majority (rural) areas. This is a verdict against the state government."
Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel said, "My sincere gratitude to the people of Gujarat. The BJP government has also paid a heavy price for their vindictive attitude and witch hunt towards the (Patel) agitators."
"These results indicate the BJP government is on its way out in Gujarat. Results are a stepping stone for a Congress' victory in 2017," he said.
Chief Minister Patel said BJP will have to analyse the reasons for its poor performance in the rural areas.
"Though we have done well in municipal corporations and municipalities, it is also a fact that the results in district and taluka panchayat bodies are not up to the expectations," Patel admitted while addressing party workers outside BJP office in Khanpur.
"We have been doing several developmental works across Gujarat. We have also undertaken an exercise to strengthen the party organisation. Still we have to now analyse what went wrong. We will find out and address these problems," she said.
Congress had also given tickets to wives of leaders of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), an organisation floated by Hardik for quota agitation. Out of the total three who contested on Congress tickets two lost from Ahmedabad, while one Rekha Patel who contested from Morbi won.
In the Unjha municipality of Mehasana district, a town dominated by Patel community, 35 seats were won by the independents out of 36 as no candidate was ready to contest on BJP ticket.