Ahmedabad: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi suffered a major jolt when his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost the Junagadh Municipal Corporation (JMC) elections on Tuesday. The Congress won the polls with a simple margin.
The BJP, which had won 35 seats out of a total of 51 in the last polls held in 2004, had to remain contented with mere 21 seats. While the Congress won 26 seats, BSP opened its first account in electoral politics of the state by winning three seats. One seat went to an Independent candidate.
This is the first election since the Lok Sabha polls in April this year in which, too, BJP’s performance was below expectations. While BJP was expecting to win at least 20 Lok Sabha seats, it could manage to win merely 15 seats, just one seat more than its tally of 2004.
The JMC results are considered to be a personal defeat for Modi as he had made it a prestige issue for himself to ensure BJP’s victory again.
To ensure that Congress could not snatch power from BJP, Modi had fielded several heavy weights including former union minister Bhavanben Chikhalia, ex-MP Mohanlal Patel, former Junagadh mayor and sitting MLA Mahendra Mashroo and former ministers G T Khathi and G K Pandya.
Though all of these heavy weights managed to win their seats, they could not help other party candidates to sail through.
Just before elections, the state government had also announced a Rs. 600 crore tourism plan for Junagadh with a view to attract voters. However, even this trick did not work.
Another gimmick played by Modi was fielding of five Muslim candidates. It was for the first time that BJP in Gujarat had fielded Muslims in electoral fray.
Though it was described by media as “Modi model’’ of politics, it was intended more to improve his image from being a Hindu hardliner to a liberal with a capacity to lead all the communities with him. Modi is accused of engineering 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the state, resulting into killing of over 2000 persons, mostly Muslims.
The BJP Minority Morcha, at the behest of Modi, had also circulated a 38-page booklet saying that Muslims educational and economic condition in Gujarat under Modi rule was better than other states, including those ruled by Congress and leftists.
According to political analysts, Modi had given tickets to Muslim candidates with an aim to play a role at national level in his party and be acceptable to NDA allies many of whose survival depends on Muslim support like Nitish Kumar in Bihar or Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh.
However, his experiment did not succeed. Not only BJP lost and its tally of seats came down drastically, none of the five Muslim candidates could manage to win. Against it, six of the seven Muslim candidates fielded by the Congress were victorious. One of the three BSP winning candidates is a Muslim woman. Muslims account for about 20 per cent of 3 lakh population of the city.
While senior BJP leaders are tightlipped over the cause of the defeat, former State BJP Minority Morcha president Ghani Qureshi said that it was because of anti-incumbency factor because the previous BJP dispensation in JMC did not come up to the expectations of the people.
Another leader said that the BJP voters were not happy with the party fielding Muslim candidates and hence, they taught it a lesson. Described as ‘Hindutva’s laboratory’, the civil society in the state is deeply polarised and majority of the Hindus saffronised.
Commenting on the BJP’s defeat, Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia said that people appeared to have been fed up with the divisive politics of BJP and wanted a change for the better.
“The results of JMC are an indication that people want a change in the state’’, said Modhwadia.