Ahmedabad: The Congress party released its first list of candidates announcing, 77 contestants for the Gujarat assembly polls, late on November 19. The list came amidst confusion around a fake list making the rounds on social media. The Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee later filed a complaint against the fake list.
The party has repeated 14 of its MLAs in its first list. There are 23 Patidar leaders, two Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convenors, 12 Koli Patels, three Muslims, 11 ST and seven SC candidates.
The party has fielded Indranil Rajguru, the richest MLA of the state, against chief minister Vijay Rupani from Rajkot West. Earlier, Rajguru had contested and won from the Rajkot East constituency. Shaktisinh Gohil has been fielded from the Mandvi constituency in Kutch. Gohil, who hails from the Saurashtra region of Gujarat, had contested and won from Abdasa, Kutch in 2012. Pradyuman Jadeja will contest from Abdasa this time.
From the Bhavnagar West seat, Dilipsinh Gohil of the Congress will fight against state BJP chief Jitu Vaghani. Arjun Modhwadia, former leader of the opposition, will contest from the Porbandar constituency against Babubhai Bokhiria, sitting BJP MLA and minister of water resources, agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries and cow protection.
Sitting MLA Paresh Dhanani has been fielded from Amreli again, and he is up against BJP’s Bavku Undhadh, a strong Patidar leader who has been winning from the Lathi constituency in Amreli. Undhadh had been a Congress member from 2007 to 2012 and switched over to the BJP in 2012.
Former Union minister in the UPA government Tushar Choudhary will contest from Mahua, a reserved seat for STs. Ashok Kothari, a textile trader who is contesting elections for the first time, will be the Congress candidate from Majura in Surat, which has been the epicentre of anti-Goods and Services Tax protests by textile traders.
The list, however, brought more trouble than jubilation for party members and supporters. PAAS members, upset by the list, resorted to violent protests in Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot and some other parts of Gujarat within an hour of its release. Leaders of the organisation threatened to launch a state-wide protest, saying the Congress had not taken them into confidence before releasing the list of candidates.
“We did not want tickets for our co-convenors. Congress gave tickets to two of our convenors, Lalit Vasoya and Amit Thummar, which upset the members of PAAS. We have pledged to defeat the BJP and we openly say we will avenge our brothers who were shot dead, but we will remain apolitical,” stated Dinesh Bhambhaniya, a co-convenor of PAAS.
“While Amit Thummar has been replaced, Lalit Vasoya has resigned from his post in PAAS and shall contest the election,” he added.
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Later, Hasmukh Patel, chief of Congress’s Surat cell, reportedly submitted his resignation on the grounds that the party had failed to balance caste equations.
A day later, on November 20, Congress released its second list of candidates, announcing 13 names of whom only nine were new. Amending the first list, the party announced five new candidates in its second list.
Thummar, who was to contest from Junagadh, was replaced by Bhikhabhai Joshi. Kiran Thakor was replaced by Jayesh Patel as the candidate from the Bharuch constituency. Nilesh Kumbani was replaced by Ashok Jirawala for the Kamrej seat in Surat, Prafullbhai Togadiya was replaced by Dhirubhai Gajera for the Varachha Road seat in Surat, and Manhar Patel was replaced by D.M. Patel for the Botad seat.
Vasoya, former PAAS co-convenor, has been fielded from the Dhoraji constituency. The seat was with the Congress since 1990 until it lost it to the BJP in a by-poll in 2013, when Congress’s Vitthalbhai Radadiya lost to BJP’s Pravin Makadiya.
Reportedly, the PAAS-Congress understanding took a blow as the Congress did not include diamond merchant and former BJP member Dhirubhai Gajera in the first list. Varachha road is a Patel-dominated seat and the centre of the diamond cutting and polishing industry of Surat. The Congress chose Prafullbhai Togadiya, nephew of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadiya, who has shared a long association with the party, as its candidate for the seat. This triggered a protest by PAAS members in Surat. Gajera is said to have been a staunch supporter of the Patidar agitation since its inception and brother of Vasant Gajera, a trustee of Kodhaldham, a religious centre for Leuva Patels in Kagvad, Rajkot.
No ticket has been allotted to PAAS leader Manoj Manara, who was in line for the ticket from Morbi, where the Congress has fielded its own party leader Brijesh Merja.
Noticeably, in Kamrej, a Patidar-dominated constituency in Surat, both Nilesh Kumbhani and Ashok Jirawala filed candidature forms on November 21, the last date to file nominations for phase one of the poll. Kumbhani told the media that he had not received any information from the party but the district election officer said that Kumbhani’s candidature was not valid and Jirawala would be considered the party’s candidate for the seat, as per protocols. Jirawala and Kumbhani are both municipal councillors.
The list has three Muslims candidates: Suleiman Patel fielded from Wagra in Bharuch, Iqbal Patel from Surat West and Javed Pirzada from Wankaner, Rajkot. It has two women candidates – Nitaben Rathod who will contest from Bhavnagar East and Bhavnaben Patel from Navsari.
Some of the disgruntled Congress leaders have decided to contest as independent candidates after being denied tickets by the party. So far, Dharmesh Patel, district Congress general secretary of Navsari, has filed his nomination papers independently from the Jalalpor seat, Navsari district, and Kishor Chikalia, Congress leader and Karobari chairman of Morbi district panchayat, filed his nomination as an independent candidate from the Maliya assembly seat in Rajkot district.
Denied a ticket by the BJP, Shamji Chauhan, a district-level leader from Chotila, Rajkot, has joined the Congress.
Damayantee Dhar is a freelance reporter.