Gandhinagar: Elections for members of 10,318 panchayats in Gujarat, including sarpanches or village heads, as well as by-elections for vacant panchayat seats elsewhere will be held on December 27, the Gujarat Election Commission announced on Monday.
State Election Commissioner Varesh Sinha said the votes will be counted on December 29.
The manual voting — and not through electronic voting machines — will be held at 24,454 polling stations in 91,002 wards. Of the nearly 1.89 crore eligible voters, 98,64,234 are men and 90,22,758 women.
There are over 14,000 gram panchayats or village-level bodies in the western state.
Though panchayat elections are held without election symbols and not on party basis, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress have pulled out all stops to ensure candidates backed by them are elected as sarpanches.
These would be the major elections after the crucial district and taluka panchayats as well as nagar panchayats elections held last December.
Thanks to the statewide Patel agitation for reservation, the BJP suffered the first-ever electoral jolt in those December elections after the exit of Narendra Modi from the state politics to become the Prime Minister in 2014.
The Congress, which has been out of power in the state since 2002, sees a ray of hope for the crucial assembly polls due in December 2017.
Besides the Patel agitation led by Hardik Patel of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), Gujarat also witnessed a major Dalit agitation in the wake of public flogging of four youngsters in Una village in Saurashtra region.
And now, the opposition party expects that the public suffering due to Centre’s November 8 demonetisation will help it.
The BJP claims to control a majority of the panchayats, while the Congress maintains the situation is quite different now.
State BJP spokesman Bharat Pandya told IANS: “The panchayat polls are not contested on party symbols, but 70 to 80 per cent panchayats have our sarpanches.”
“Modi, as Chief Minister, had called all village sarpanches thrice to Gandhinagar, which itself was unheard of. Besides, our government drastically increased financial grants to panchayats. They had never felt so empowered earlier under the Congress,” Pandya said.
Congress leader Manish Doshi said: “Look at the suffering of villagers and you will know that the state government has done little except make announcements.”
“When our party rules with a brute majority in district and taluka panchayats, do you think the lowest rung of the Panchayati Raj Institutions is with the BJP or rather go with candidates supported by the BJP?” Doshi asked.
“The results will show. The panchayat elections were due in October but the ruling party was reluctant to hold them till now,” he added.