The BJP’s virtual clean sweep in two municipalities and one taluka (block) panchayat elections and by-elections in 11 municipalities, seven district panchayats and 15 taluka panchayat seats in Gujarat is a shot in the arm for the party after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation move and ahead of State assembly elections next year. Of the total 123 seats which went to polls in different parts of the state, the BJP won an impressive 107 seats. Coming close on the heels of the fine showing in the Maharashtra civic polls, and in the parliamentary byelections in Madhya Pradesh and Assam, the party has cause for deep satisfaction. Indeed, fears that the hardship being experienced by people at large by having to wait for withdrawing cash from banks in the wake of demonetisation would dent the BJP’s acceptability have proved unfounded.
There is a clear indication that Modi’s appeal that this was a short-term hardship for long-term gains for the country has gone down well with the people.
The leadership change in Gujarat with Vijay Rupani replacing Anandiben Patel has also proved beneficial for the BJP. Rupani was clearly more accessible to the people and injected a measure of dynamism in the party. While the Patidar agitation led by young and mercurial Hardik Patel dented the party’s popularity in the Saurashtra region initially, it had little impact on the civic elections since the agitation lost steam along the way. The BJP won 41 out of 44 seats in Vapi (Valsad district), 27 out of 28 seats in Kanakpur-Kansad (Surat) municipalities. Out of 22 seats in Gondal taluka Panchayat, BJP won 18. The district panchayat by-election results have not upset the party either as five district panchayats out of seven turned saffron. Out of 15 taluka panchayat by-elections, BJP won five while the Congress won four. Elections on other seats were postponed due to technical reasons.
Putting up a dismal performance, the Congress managed to capture only 16 seats in this election, of the 123 in contention. This was a clear signal that the party has a lot of hard work to do before next year’s Assembly polls if it is to pose any challenge to the BJP’s long and complete domination. Evidently, the negative tactics of the Congress in Parliament and the absence of a credible leadership in the State as well as the Centre are proving to be a liability for the beleaguered Congress.