BJP and Congress. (File Photo: IANS). Image Source: IANS News

Gandhinagar, Feb 28 : From the results of the recently-held six municipal corporation elections in Gujarat, it seems the Congress will struggle to even come close to repeating its feat of winning upcoming local body elections across the state against the mighty BJP, which it managed to do in 2015.

Even before the poll campaigning began for the six municipal corporations, the Congress lost more than 200 seats in elections to various local bodies. Some seats were lost because the nominations were rejected, more were lost because the candidates themselves withdrew their papers at the eleventh hour.

While at some places candidates with the party's mandate couldn't file papers for they had been replaced at the last moment. In some such cases, those disgruntled candidates raised monetary allegations.

The results of the municipal corporations came as a big blow to the party, as it not only lost in all the elections, but fared pathetically. While the BJP improved upon its 2015 tally of 389 seats out of total 572 to as many as 483 out of 576 this time, the Congress plummeted from 174 seats in 2015 to 55 in 2021.

The worst case was that of the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) elections, where the party failed to secure a single seat. While, by winning 93 seats in the 120-member SMC, the ruling BJP retained power, it was Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), that made inroads in Gujarat politics by winning 27 seats of the SMC. Whereas, the Congress, which had won 36 seats in 2015, could not even open its account and was left once again resorting to the blame game.

Although, the success of AAP in Surat is being clearly credited to the support its candidates received from the Patel Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), an agitation body once led by Hardik Patel, demanding reservation for the Patel community. The PAAS members just prior to the elections, had severed their ties with the Congress, disagreeing over the seat sharing quota in one of the SMC wards.

Surat, the Diamond City, has a sizable population of the Patidar community in certain pockets. It was particularly in one such pocket, where the imbroglio between the Congress and the PAAS transpired.

Similarly, in the Municipal Corporation elections in Rajkot, the hometown of Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, BJP gained all of the 18 wards, except one. BJP captured 68 seats out of the total 72 seats of the RMC. While, the Congress had to be content with the rest 4 seats. The Congress had secured 34 seats in the previous elections in 2015. In Rajkot, after BJP, it is AAP which has secured the second highest vote share.

"That's not surprising," said Dinesh Bambhania, one of the PAAS leaders and an aide of Hardik Patel, who spearheaded the Patel reservation agitation in 2015.

"After being cheated by the Congress frequently, time and again, since the state assembly election of 2017, we saw the height of indifference, the Congress showed towards us (PAAS). We had to part ways with them after they could not even give us one single seat for our PAAS leader, Alpesh Kathiria," Bambhania told IANS.

"We have had too much with the BJP, and now the one, whom we lent support since 2015 and on the backbone on which the Congress had tremendous success in local body elections in 2015, was ditching us. We decided that we will support the AAP Party, who had been offering us all their support in our community's demands," added Bambhania.

"The AAP corporators of SMC are mostly from our community and also the members of the PAAS. Now in the other local body elections taking place on Sunday, we will obviously support the AAP and results will be seen. Although, it won't be as good as that of SMC and RMC, due to shortage of time," he said.

It appears that the Congress wants to keep itself aloof from the young Patidar brigade by not giving much weightage to them in the state politics. The party did well in the previous local body elections in 2015, primarily riding the wave of the OBC reservation status demands in the Patidar community.

In the present scenario, the party, it seems doesn't feel the need for the influencial Patidar community for acquiring power, which can set the base for the state Assembly elections, which are slated next year.

Working president of the Gujarat Congress Committee Hardik Patel told IANS on Saturday that despite him being in a significant position in the party, he was never consulted for any of the seat selection and distribution for the local body elections.

The Congress lost badly in the six municipal corporation elections held last week, losing the support of the dominant Patidar community, a likely reason for it's poor performance.

"I have not been consulted for a single seat selection for any of the local body elections in Gujarat. I have not even been assigned tasks by the party regarding any of the preparations for the elections. Right now, whatever rallies I am carrying out everyday for the party's good performance in these elections are entirely on my own," Hardik Patel told the IANS.

"Hardik's close aides and aspiring nominees have been left out. It seems that the party doesn't want us and if that's the case, so be it. For a major win in Gujarat, any party will have to have the support of the Patidar community, that's for sure and nobody can deny that," said Bambhania.

Now it needs to be seen how the Congress fares in the remaining local body elections on Sunday, which will set or disrupt their base for the upcoming state Assembly election in 2022.

"Whether the Congress swims through the tide, with or without the support of the Patidars and how they do it, only time will tell," concluded Bambhania.

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