Ahmedabad: The composition of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s first list of 70 candidates for the upcoming Gujarat assembly polls tells us a lot about the state of play in the most important election to be held between now and 2019 Lok Sabha.
Shelving its ‘no-repeat policy’, as many as 49 sitting MLAs have been repeated. New faces to prevent anti-incumbency had been a hallmark of the Narendra Modi-led BJP that won three terms in Gujarat. This time around, the party appears to be playing it safe, at least judging by the first list, with sitting MLAs, Patidars and key Congress defectors dominating the set of names.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani from Rajkot West seat tops the list. Deputy CM Nitin Patel from Mehsana and state party president Jitu Vaghani will contest from Bhavnagar West.
Noticeably, the BJP has named 15 Patidar leaders. Five turncoat MLAs from Congress – Raghavji Patel, MLA from Jamnagar Rural, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja from Jamnagar North, Ramsinh Parmar from Thasra, Mansinh Chauhan from Balasinor, Kheda district and CK Raulji from Godhra – get to contest from their current seats.
The prestige seat
Rupani will contest again from Rajkot West, where he is likely to face a tough fight from Indranil Rajguru, who is currently a Congress MLA from Rajkot East but has openly declared that he will contest from Rajkot West this election.
Rajguru, who is also the richest MLA with Rs 122 crore in declared assets, is said to have announced a political war to defeat Rupani.
Rajkot West, predominantly an urban constituency, has been in the BJP fold since 1985 and has produced two CMs. For that reason, it is considered a prestige seat for the party.
Narendra Modi, who was drafted by the BJP in 2001 due to Keshubhai Patel’s failing health and poor public image following the Bhuj earthquake, contested from the same seat in a 2002 by-poll and got elected as chief minister. Rupani, who won the seat in a by-election in 2014, went on to become the CM, replacing Anandiben Patel in August 2016.
Despite the Karadiya Rajputs’ ire that he has been facing lately, BJP state president Jitu Vaghani will contest from his old Bhavnagar West seat.
Vaghani had earlier enjoyed complete support of the Patels of the region. However, in the aftermath of the Patidar movement, support from Patels for the BJP throughout Saurashtra is on shaky grounds.
To add to that, the Karadiya Rajputs upped their ante against the BJP president last month. Vaghani’s intervention against a sarpanch of a village of the constituency in a matter related to gauchar land triggered a vehement protest, with local Rajputs demanding his resignation.
Bhavnagar West was formed out of Bhavnagar South after seat delimitation in 2012. While in Bhavnagar South constituency, Congress MLA Shaktisinh Gohil had contested and defeated Vaghani by about 7000 votes in the assembly elections of 2007. Gohil, who is currently MLA of Abdasa, Kutch has been very vocal about Patidar issues in the Saurashtra region and reached out to the Rajputs as well and reportedly is considering contesting against Vaghani from Bhavnagar West.
Patidar agitation hotbed
Deputy CM Nitin Patel is set to contest again from Mehsana, the hotbed of Patidar agitation. The seat has been with the BJP since 1990 but the rise of Hardik Patel and the Patidar agitation is likely to leave a dent in the support base of the party in the constituency.
“When the Patidar agitation was at its peak and Anandiben Patel was to be replaced, it was Nitin Patel, who was to succeed her. At his residence in Mehsana, people were ready for a celebration but at the last moment Vijay Rupani’s name was announced. One can understand Nitin, who was close to Anandiben, being sidelined. Hence it cannot be refuted that Patel is being repeated from Mehsana knowing that he has become unpopular owing to both his high-handed behaviour and the aftermath of the Patidar agitation,” said Ghanshyam Shah, an Ahmedabad-based political analyst.
“Amongst the Patidars, three economic classes can be seen. The affluent Patels, who are big businessmen and are unaffected by the agitation. Their support for BJP will not change. The upper middle class Patels, the majority of whom are professionals and private employees and at times also own considerable property are concentrated in urban areas and lower middle class rural population, who are small scale farmers and businessmen. At least 70% of the vote for the BJP came from the upper and lower middle class. This time owing to the Hardik Patel factor, the vote share is likely to go down by 40%. The remaining 30% may go to the Congress or independent candidates,” added Shah.
Patidar MLA Bavku Undhadh, who won from the Lathi assembly seat as a Congress candidate in 2007 and then won from the same constituency as a BJP candidate in 2012, has been named to contest from the Amreli assembly constituency to put up a tough fight against Congress sitting MLA Paresh Dhanani, whom the party is likely to field again. Dilip Shanghani, who lost to Dhanani in 2012, has been shifted to Dhari constituency in Amreli district.
Dissatisfaction and protests
Soon after the list of candidates was announced, dissatisfaction was seen amongst a section of post holders and members of the BJP. About 30 BJP leaders from Kamigadh in Amreli constituency have resigned to protest the party’s decision to nominate Bavku Undhadh. Bipin Sanghvi, BJP leader in Mahuva, has resigned as a mark of protest after the party decided to field Rahavjibhai Makwana.
Kamlesh Natu Parmar, leader of the opposition of the district panchayat of Vadodara, who resigned from his post after the list was declared, told The Wire, “There are about 120,000 Kshatriyas in the constituency, yet we did not get proper representation. I shall contest as an independent candidate.”
Disgruntled over the candidature of Ishwar Patel from Ankaleshwar, his brother Vallabhbhai Patel, who had hoped for a ticket resigned from his membership of the district panchayat of Bharuch.
Dashrath Puvar, general secretary of the district cell of Dang resigned from his post as he was upset at not getting a ticket. The BJP fielded Vijay Patel from Dang assembly seat.
Several taluka panchayat members protested against the candidature of Babu Patel, sitting MLA of Daskroi, Ahmedabad, who is said to be close to Amit Shah.
The name of Dhari’s sitting MLA, Nalin Kotadiya, doesn’t feature in the first list of candidates. Kotadiya, who won as a GPP candidate and later joined the BJP, reportedly did not vote in favour of the BJP during the RS polls. The other sitting MLA whose name has been dropped from the first list is Varsha Doshi, MLA of Wadhwan.
Bholabhai Gohil, Congress MLA from Jasdan, Rajkot district, who also had defected during the Rajya Sabha polls, is disgruntled over not getting a ticket from the constituency. The BJP has fielded Bharatbhai Bogra from Jasdan.
16 new faces
The list includes 16 new names. The most prominent one is P.C. Baranda, former superintendent of police of Chhota Udaipur. Baranda had requested voluntary retirement from the police, which was approved by the state government on November 15, the same day he joined the BJP. The former Gujarat cadre IPS officer shall now contest the assembly election from Bhiloda seat, Chhota Udaipur, which is reserved for STs. Ketan Inamdar, who had won as an independent candidate from Savli, Vadodara district and later joined the BJP is to contest from the same seat.
Forty-five of the constituencies for which the candidates have been declared will go to the polls in the first phase on December 9 while the remaining 25 will vote in the second phase on December 14.