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What lay behind Gujarat's top officials' recent "meeting" with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi

K Kailashnathan
By RK Misra*
Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, for this time it tolls nearer home. The resurgence of the Congress in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bastion of Gujarat during recent local body polls is cause for enough concern for him. This became evident when, a few days back, chief secretary GR Aloria, DGP PC Thakur and chief principal secretary of the chief minister KK Kailasnathan called on him in New Delhi.
Though it was billed as a meeting to discuss the forthcoming conference of the country’s top cops to be held in Kutch, these preliminaries were dispensed with within minutes and then followed an almost hour long closed door meeting between Modi and Kailasnathan in which the poll outcome was discussed. Kailasnathan is a trusted former bureaucrat of Modi who headed the CMO during his tenure and has been retained as his eyes and ears in Gandhinagar on the same post even during Anandiben’s tenure.
Delhi, Bihar and now Gujarat. Billed as the semi-final encounter before the next State Assembly polls in 2017, the election results to 323 local self government bodies in Gujarat is cause for alarm to the ruling BJP and nectar to the ears of the Congress. Rendered comatose by Narendra Modi in his 13 year long rule of Gujarat, the Congress has virtually risen from the grave within just 18 months of his departure for Delhi. The results announced on December 2 were bad news for the BJP in Gujarat. While the ruling party in the state has managed to retain urban control, the Congress has swept the countryside.
The ruling BJP retained control of the municipal corporations of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Surat, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar and 40 of the 56 smaller town municipalities but the Congress walked away with a majority of the 31 district panchayats and 230 taluka panchayats.
The results constitute a major setback to the Anandiben Patel government which inherited from Narendra Modi control of 30 of the 31 district panchayats,190 of the 230 taluka (tehsil) panchayats, 47 of the 56 municipalities and all the eight municipal corporations.
The BJP may have retained control of all the six municipal corporations of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Surat, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar but the steamroller margins that Modi had gifted his succesors has been considerably whittled down.
BJP secured majority in the municipal corporations of Ahmedabad winning 143 of the total 192 seats, Surat’s 76 of the total 116 seats, Vadodara’s 54 of the total 76 seats ,Jamnagars’ 38 of 64 seats and Bhavnagar’s 34 of 52 seats.
In fact, in Rajkot civic body the BJP won by a mere four seats with 38 seats against 34 of the Congress.Though it failed to get majority but the strength of the Congress improved substantially in these six cities compared to the results of the 2010 elections.
Again, in the elections to the 56 towns, BJP won 40 municipalities, which is seven less than it’s previous tally of 47. Congress has won ten municipalities while the results of three others ended up in a tie between Congress and the BJP. Independents won in three municipalities including that of Unjha town in North Gujarat where the BJP had failed to even put up a candidate on it’s own symbol.
It was however the district and taluka elections where the ruling BJP received its worst drubbing of recent times with the Congress walking all over it in district and taluka panchayat polls which had predominantly rural voters.
From just one district panchayat in the 2010 elections, the Congress rose to annex 23 of the total 31 district panchayats in the state with BJP down to a mere six and the Somnath and Dangs district panchayat results seeing a tie with both BJP and Congress winning nine seats each.
It was a near similar scenario in the taluka panchayat elections where the Congress rose from control of 37 to 132 taluka panchayats in the just concluded polls. The BJP which earlier controlled 193 now stands reduced to 73 with 25 going to independents.
The most shocking aspect of the polls for the BJP was that the Congress bagged the taluka and district panchayats of prime minister Narendra Modi’s native village of Vadnagar, chief minister Anandiben Patel’s Visnagar and her number two in the cabinet, health minister Nitin Patel’s Kadi which all figure in Mehsana district of north Gujarat from where the Patidar agitation emanated.
Home minister Rajni Patel’s hometown of Himmatnagar as well as the bastion of numerous other ministers also went the congress way. Karnali village in Vadodara district, which was adopted by union finance minister Arun Jaitley who is a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat also saw the BJP lose out.
It goes without saying that Modi just cannot afford a slide in BJP fortunes in Gujarat. Any debacle in the 2017 State Assembly elections in his home state will fatally wound BJP as well as Modi’s prospects in the general elections that will follow two years later in 2019. These results have great national implications and the prime minister aware of it has summoned the state BJP leaders.
The continuing disenchantment of the patels shows no signs of abating and the present chief minister is not helping matters by pressing to keep their young leadership behind bars under charges so grave as sedition. It is a costly mistake which will only further alienate the youth who have been at the forefront of support for Modi and the BJP.
If the ruling party even remotely entertained some thoughts of easing the pressure on Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel, the Congress has now decided to jump into the fray demanding his release and threatening an agitation and the government would not like to be seen as giving in to opposition pressure. Already the High Court has sought an affidavit from the state government on the reasons for tapping into his phones and will have some tough explaining to do.
Both BJP and the Congress acknowledge that the election results showed a distinct divide between urban and rural voters. This is clear indication that the rural population feels that the present government’s approach is too urban-centric and at the cost of the rural population. The distinctive tilt towards industry at the cost of agriculture and the agitations over making available rich agricultural land for industrial projects has been a sore point with ruralites leading to protracted agitations with the government casting it’s lot with industry.
This is a growing national perception that the Modi-led NDA government at the centre also suffers from. The signs are ominous and the ruling party would do well to take care lest it come a cropper.The Congress for now has cause to celebrate. At least in Gujarat!
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*Senior Gandhinagar-based journalist based in Gandhinagar. Blog: http://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.in/

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