Party loses hold over its only two district panchayats

With the Congress losing hold over the only two district panchayats it won in the recent elections after its members defected to the ruling BJP, the story of its decimation in Gujarat since last December’s Assembly elections continues and the party now has been left with no district panchayat.

Kheda and Banaskantha in central and north Gujarat were the only two district panchayats out of the 26 in the State that the Congress won though with a very thin margin in the February 17 local body elections. Before the polls, the Congress had three district panchayats, Gandhinagar, Banaskantha and Tapi. This time, it had clinched Kheda from the BJP and retained Banaskantha. Now, even these two are not there.

The Congress has been suffering one blow after another ever since the Assembly elections results trickled in on December 20, when the Narendra Modi-led BJP got elected for a third time in a row. Just ahead of the polls, its senior leader Narhari Amin walked over to the BJP.

After the polls, one of its woman legislators died and more recently two MLAs from Saurashtra, powerful cooperative sector leader Vitthal Radadia and his son quit their posts to rejoin the BJP. The senior Radadia, a Patel leader from the crucial Saurashtra region, was a Member of Parliament but contested the Assembly elections and gave up his MP post.

With his departure, the Congress is not left with any powerful leader in the crucial Saurashtra region that sends most number of MLAs — and so Members of Parliament. Its two senior leaders, State party president Arjun Modhwadia and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Shaktisinh Gohil — both from Saurashtra — had to face defeat in the Assembly polls.

While the reverses in the local body polls means the Congress is yielding ground to the BJP even at the grassroots level, the bare grassroots, the defections of panchayat as well as state-level leaders reflects the internal strife. Not to speak of scores of key party workers who mattered in many parts of the State who have walked over to the BJP during recent months.

During the Assembly elections, there were fissures over ticket distribution as well as about who will the Chief Minister if the Congress won, to such an extent that its present Leader of the Opposition Shankersinh Vaghela had to lobby hard with the central leadership in Delhi for a ticket.

After the polls when he was the only one among the party bigwigs who romped home and over 20 of the candidates that he had plumped for also won, he was denied the post of State party president that he insisted for instead of being Leader of the Opposition. The high command retained Arjun Modhwadia as State Congress chief, while he could not retain his own seat. This also cost the party’s Vitthal Radadia, who was lobbying hard for being named the Leader of Opposition. A reluctant Mr. Vaghela was appointed on the post, leaving him dejected. As a result, Mr. Modi’s BJP remains in complete command.