Mumbai: In a desperate attempt to impose its popularity, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday claimed that it has won the largest number of sarpanch posts in the recently concluded first phase of Gram Panchayat elections even though, according to the State Election Commission, these polls are not fought over symbols of any political party.
A BJP leader claimed on Monday that BJP emerged as the number one party in the 3,131 Gram Panchayats which went for polls, stating that BJP nominees were elected as sarpanch in 1,457 of the 2,974 Gram Panchayats whose results were declared on Sunday, whereas, Congress won (301), Shiv Sena (222) and NCP (194). The remaining sarpanch posts went to Independents and other outfits.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also congratulated Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis for emerging as the number one party in the Gram Panchayat elections.
Wonderful victory of @BJP4Maharashtra in rural areas shows the unwavering support of the farmers, youth & poor for BJP’s development agenda.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 10, 2017
Interestingly, the State Election Commission has debunked the BJP’s claims highlighting a very small but crucial element to the BJP leadership that Gram Panchayat polls are never fought on a party’s symbol.
The BJP may just be indulging in chest thumping to earn political mileage.
State Election Commissioner JS Saharia told media that a Gram Panchayat election candidate does not contest on a party symbol. “The Gram Panchayat election candidates contest the elections as independents. So, they don’t have any party symbols. Even the local panelists who contest in these elections don’t have any party symbol,” he said.
Questioning the veracity of BJP’s figures, Saharia further informed that even the SEC doesn’t have party-wise data. “We don’t have party wise winning candidates because these elections are not contested on party symbols,” he said.
The SEC only mentioned the voting percentage in its official releases regarding the phase 1 polls that were held on Sunday in 3,131 Gram Panchayat in 16 districts of Maharashtra.
“As a SEC all I can say is that the Gram Panchayat elections are held on individual symbols and not on party symbols. We only have the names of the 35,000 candidates who contested the elections and do not belong to any political party,” said Saharia.
So, is BJP unnecessarily taking credit for an election which it wasn’t even part of in the first place? And why?
It was the first time in the history of Gram Panchayat polls that the elections for the sarpanch post were held directly. Interestingly, Fadnavis had also pushed for direct Sarpanch elections just like Municipal Council Chairman elections. But the nominees did not contest on party symbols. Legally, they were all independent candidates even though the political parties claimed alliance with them. A positive outcome in the Gram Panchayat polls is, therefore, significant for Fadnavis’ leadership in Maharashtra.
The 3,131 Gram Panchayats that went to polls in the first phase are spread over 16 districts in Marathwada, Vidarbha and North Maharashtra regions. Despite it being the first-ever direct election for sarpanch, the phase I Gram Panchayat polls witnessed 79 percent polling. This is a significant turnout in a state which witnessed just 63.4 percent during the State Assembly Election in 2014. Emerging as the number one party in a first direct election for sarpanch would only reassert the politics of any party.
Not surprising then that BJP senior leader and revenue minsiter Chandrakant Patil said that the results of the first phase of the Gram Panchayat polls confirm the BJP’s all-round dominance across Maharashtra. “The victory comes on the back of the hat-trick of victories we scored in the Municipal Council, Zilla Parishad and Municipal Corporation polls. Around 50 percent Gram Panchayats are with BJP and the majority of BJP karykartas won the Gram Panchayat election. So, ultimately the score is in BJP’s pocket,” he added.
However, BJP is not the only party self-praising its performance in the phase I Gram Panchayat elections. The Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress have also claimed to be the number one party.
Congress MP and state president Ashok Chavan told reporter that BJP is claiming to be the number one party in the Gram Panchayat election because it’s afraid of losing the Nanded Municipal Corporation election scheduled to be held on 11 October. “BJP manipulated the figures like they did earlier on the social media,” said Chavan.
“They will definitely loose Nanded Municipal polls which will be held tomorrow and Congress will retain the Nanded Corporation any how,” claimed Chavan.
Ever since Fadnavis took over the reins in October 2014, BJP is on a winning spree in Zilla Parishad, Municipal Council and Municipal Corporation elections. In the earlier municipal council polls, BJP nominees won as president in 52, followed by Shiv Sena (27), Congress (23) and NCP (21). The BJP had also emerged as the single largest party in the municipal council elections held in multiple phases during November-December 2016 and in the 10 Municipal Corporations elections held in February 2017.
The top leadership in BJP feels that the Fadnavis government’s decision to hold direct election of sarpanchs (Gram Panchayat heads) has paid off. But considering, the “independent” nature of Gram Panchayat elections and the fact that the second phase of the election featuring 3,692 Gram Panchayats yet to take place, the chest-thumping seems more like a premature celebration.
The phase II of the Gram Panchayat elections will take place in 18 districts of Maharashtra on 14 October and the counting will take place on 16 October.