Congress records major gains in Gujarat civic polls

The opposition Congress is ecstatic at having made significant inroads in rural areas of Gujarat in civic elections, results of which were announced on Wednesday, although the Bharatiya Janata Party continues to dominate urban Gujarat.

The Congress has won 22 of 31 district panchayats, a massive improvement over the one panchayat it had won in 2010. It has also won more than 50 per cent of the state's 231 taluka or block-level panchayats.

The civic elections were seen as an important test for chief minister Anandiben Patel - handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to replace him after he moved to the Centre last year - and she will take heart from her party, the BJP's performance in urban areas. The BJP has won all six municipal corporations, including Ahmedabad and Surat, facing tough competition from the Congress only in Rajkot.

The BJP has also won more than 40 of the 56 municipalities where elections were held, including Viramgam, the home-town of 22-year-old politician Hardik Patel, who is leading an agitation for reservation in government jobs and colleges for the wealthy and influential Patels or Patidaars, long seen as a BJP support base.

Hardik Patel and others had appealed to the community to vote against the BJP for rejecting their demand for reservation, but that seems to have had little impact in areas like Ahmedabad and Surat.

"It's a bitter-sweet result for us. But I'm happy that the hard work of our party leaders in urban areas has paid off. We will analyse what went wrong in rural areas and try to improve our performance next time," said chief minister Anandiben Patel after she visited the party office in Ahmedabad.

The Congress has linked the revival of its fortunes to the elections due in the state in 2017. Its leaders point out that not only has it won in rural areas, but has also bettered its performance in some urban centres.

"In 105 assembly segments we have made an impact and our candidates have won in 70 per cent of the seats from Umargaon to Ambaji," said Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki.

The Congress has had spectator status in Gujarat for many years now as the BJP consolidated its position at every level in the state. In the last assembly elections, the BJP led by Modi had won 115 of Gujarat's 182 seats, and swept all 26 Lok Sabha seats in the national election last year.