Ahmedabad: The ruling BJP in Gujarat will face its first election in Narendra Modi’s absence in over a decade, as the first phase of polling in the two-tiered elections to 323 local bodies take place on Sunday.
The over 300 local bodies are in six of the eight municipal corporations in Gujarat.
While it will be a test for the BJP, the Congress sees an opportunity in it, having scored a duck during the Lok Sabha polls last year.
Sunday’s polling, which has nearly one crore eligible voters, will pick the elected bodies of six municipal corporations of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar.
The second phase on November 29 will see balloting for 230 tehsil panchayats, 42 municipalities and 31 district panchayats.
The BJP lords over 150 tehsils, 42 municipalities and 30 district panchayats, which largely form the rural and semi-urban segments of the state.
The two phase elections have around 3.55 crore or half the state’s population as eligible voters. Votes for both the phases would be counted on December 2.
The image of Modi, who ruled the state for 13 years before moving on to become the prime minister, still seems to hold the BJP in good stead, but his successor Anandiben Patel and the BJP are keeping fingers crossed given the agitation by the Patidar (Patel) community for reservation.
With 21 percent voter representation, the Patels account for Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, state BJP president R.C. Faldu and 42 of the total 182 legislators in the assembly.
Even as the chief minister drew a lukewarm response in many areas dominated by Patels during poll campaign, BJP supporters wore masks of Modi in the campaign during the Diwali holidays.
Meanwhile, Congress workers and the Patel agitation leaders were also out on the streets wearing masks of the 22-year-old Hardik Patel, the spearhead of the stir.
Many residential colonies had put up ‘No Entry’ boards against BJP campaigners while in some areas, Patel agitators exhorted people to exercise their ‘None of The Above (NOTA) option on the ballot paper.
Though police have booked Hardik Patel and his associates under sedition charges and they are in judicial custody, that does not seem to have dampened the spirits of the agitators.
Congress leaders, on the other hand, feel they have a chance to better their performance this time, with Modi no longer campaigning for the BJP.