The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat on Tuesday retained the Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation (GMC) with an absolute majority for the first time and also registered victory in two other local bodies while the opposition Congress snatched the Bhanvad municipality in Devbhumi-Dwarka district from the saffron party which was in power in this local body since 1995.
This is for the first time in a decade that the BJP scored an absolute majority since the formation of the Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation in 2011.
As per the final tally released by the State Election Commission (SEC), out of the total 44 seats in the GMC, the BJP won 41 seats, the Congress two and the Aam Aadmi Party bagged one seat.
The GMC poll was being seen as a litmus test for the BJP in the backdrop of its sudden and surprising decision to change the Gujarat chief minister and the entire cabinet recently, ahead of the assembly polls due next year.
Gandhinagar is part of the Lok Sabha constituency of Union Home Minister and BJP heavyweight Amit Shah.
In the first election to the GMC in 2011, when Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, the Congress came to power with 18 seats relegating the BJP, which had won 15 seats, to the second position.
However, the BJP snatched power from the Congress in 2012 following the defection of three Congress corporators, including the first mayor of Gandhinagar, Mahendrasinh Rana.
In the 2016 GMC elections, when seats were reduced to 32 from 33, both Congress and BJP won 16 seats each out of the total 32.
Both the parties had equal chances of forming the board through a draw of lots.
However, at the last moment, Congress corporator Pravin Patel switched sides and helped the BJP come to power at the civic body for the second time.
This time, the BJP established a lead from the beginning of counting at 9 am and eventually trumped its rivals Congress and the AAP by a huge margin.
The BJP had registered a thumping win in the local bodies polls held in February this year.
Counting of votes was also held for three other municipalities -- Okha and Bhanvad in the Devbhumi-Dwarka district, and Thara municipality of the Banaskantha district.
As per the final figures released by the SEC after counting of votes, the BJP won 20 out of the 24 seats in Thara while the Congress won only four seats.
The BJP retained Okha municipality by winning 34 out of the 36 seats. Two seats went to Congress.
However, in a setback to the BJP, the Congress emerged victorious in Bhanvad by winning 16 out of the 24 seats up for grabs.
The BJP, which managed to win only eight seats this time, had been in power in Bhanvad since 1995.
Voting for elections to the GMC and the three other municipalities was held on Sunday along with bypolls to elect representatives on 101 vacant seats of various other local bodies, such as district and taluka panchayats.
Out of these 101 seats across Gujarat, 72 went to BJP, 21 to Congress and five to Independents.
While the AAP bagged two seats in bypolls to two taluka panchayat seats in Arvalli and Kheda districts, a candidate of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen won the byelection to a vacant seat in the Bharuch municipality.
Of the total 2.8 lakh registered voters in Gandhinagar, 56.24 per cent had exercised their franchise.
The voter turnout in Okha and Bhanvad was 55.07 per cent and 62.27 per cent, respectively, while Thara had recorded an impressive 73.55 per cent voter turnout.
In Gandhinagar, the AAP had put in concerted efforts apart from traditional rivals BJP and Congress.
The latest election was originally supposed to be held in April this year, but it was postponed in view of the high number of COVID-19 cases emerging every day at that time.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked the people of Gujarat after the BJP comprehensively won the local body polls in the state, and said the results reaffirm the deep-rooted bond between them and the BJP.
'Results of the local body polls across Gujarat and Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation reaffirm the deep-rooted bond between the people of Gujarat and BJP.
'Gratitude to the people for repeatedly blessing us. Kudos to all @BJP4Gujarat Karyakartas for working hard at the grassroots,' he tweeted.
BJP president J P Nadda said the victory highlights the people's 'continuous faith in PM Modi's leadership and the BJP's pro-people policies'.
Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel also expressed his gratitude to people for the BJP's win.
After celebrating the victory at the Gujarat BJP headquarters 'Kamalam' in Gandhinagar, state BJP chief C R Paatil said the victory shows that citizens stand firmly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He dubbed the new entrant AAP as only a 'thunder without rain', and asserted that there is 'no place for a third party in Gujarat'.
On the other hand, the Gujarat Congress blamed the division of anti-BJP votes due to AAP for the 'lower than expected' results.
'It is clear that division of anti-BJP votes due to the entry of the AAP helped the ruling fold in retaining power in Gandhinagar.
'Congress will continue to fight for the issues concerning the people. We are also glad that voters put trust in Congress and gave us a majority in the Bhanvad municipality.
'We also won 14 vacant seats of taluka panchayat and 3 of district panchayats,' said Gujarat Congress spokesperson, Manish Doshi.
Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP said though it lost this election, they are here for a long battle.
'We do not consider this as our defeat. While one of our candidates has won in Gandhinagar, AAP has come second in four wards in terms of votes received.
'AAP volunteers fought with conviction and raised real issues concerning people. Despite being a new entrant, AAP gave a tough fight to the BJP and the Congress.' said AAP spokesperson Yogesh Jadvani.