Battle for Bastion
Though the BJP banks on the popularity of Narendra Modi and his work during the last five years, the fielding of Amit Shah from Gandhinagar has made the things easier
Jaywant Pandya
When I am writing this piece, it is the second last day for filling up the nominations. Yet, the Congress has to decide for 8 candidates, while BJP has not decided its candidate for Ahmedabad East seat. The situation shows the uncertainty prevailing in both the parties.
When Congress declared four Gujarat candidates on March 8 with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi contesting from Raibareli and Amethi, political observers thought Congress was preparing best this time, because it was seen since some past elections that Congress remains indecisive about declaring candidates till last day or in some cases, till last hour. Due to this, the Congress candidate doesn’t get enough time for campaigning. And it is proven fact for Gujarat that here if Congress candidate wins, it is not because of central leadership’s magic, but due to candidate’s own reputation or hard work or caste factor.
Both parties rely on the caste factor. BJP was up as it has got Kunwarji Bawalia, a powerful Koli community leader and hardcore Congress leader, and Jawahar Chawda, a powerful Ahir community leader and hardcore Congressmen since his father’s time. Both were appointed as a minister soon after they joined the BJP. Other Congress MLAs or ex MLAS like Purusottam Sabariya, Vallabh Dharavia and Shamji Chauhan have also joined the BJP. On the other hand, ex-minister Bimal Shah has joined the Congress.
But Congress high command was upped ante after they let Hardik Patel join Congress. Hardik Patel was becoming quite unpopular after his political ambitions exposed during his hidden meeting with Congress (then) vice president Rahul Gandhi at the time of Gujarat assembly elections. Gujarat High Court rejected his pleas for seeking a stay of his conviction in the Mehsana rioting case. As per Representation of People Act, 1951 (against which, Rahul Gandhi himself had made drama in the press conference and had not allowed then Manmohan Singh government to pass Act against this), Hardik Patel will not be able to contest upcoming Lok Sabha elections due to his conviction. Hardik had approached the Supreme Court, but SC declined urgent hearing.
Congress working committee meeting in Gujarat on March 12 got people remembrance that the Nehru-Gandhi family realised Gujarat’s strength after 58 years. Gujarat people always felt Nehru-Gandhi family doing injustice to Gujarat and Gujarati prominent and powerful leaders, be it Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Morarjibhai Desai, Chimanbhai Patel or Narendrabhai Modi. On Narmada dam and many other issues, Congress governments have done injustice to Gujarat. Narendra Modi as CM has always got Gujaratis remembered this.
But in this CWC meeting, Gujaratis saw how Hardik Patel entered meeting even when he was not a member of the Congress yet. After this meeting, his speech was allowed at the place where Congress president Rahul Gandhi was to address a rally. But this speech was also before Rahul Gandhi officially welcomed him at the party. This function saw Rahul Gandhi raising the same repeated speech including that of Rafael, farmers and industrialists. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra didn’t speak too much as it would attract more media coverage than Rahul’s. People saw Sonia Gandhi, who led Congress to power in 2004, behind the first row. She didn’t speak. This was a sign that Sonia Gandhi has gone inactive without Congress high command sending him in Margdarshak Mandal. But Sonia Gandhi is not the only leader that has been sidelined. Once the leader of the opposition, Shakti Sinh Gohil, Arjun Modhwadia, Bharatsinh Solanki and Siddharth Patel are also sidelined. This function saw Shaktisinhjee as an announcer!
So, there is no surprise when some months before a secret meeting was held at Arjun Modhwadia’s place. Congressmen feel Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor have hijacked Congress. Alpesh Thakor threw tantrums before the election was declared. He allowed gossips that he was joining the BJP. God knows what happened, but he declared he was in Congress only. But if we see Patan Candidate, it seems Alpesh Thakor’s wish is not considered. Alpesh Thakor has now lost some base as his Thakor Kshatriya Sena is divided. So is the case with Hardik Patel’s PAAS or Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti which is divided between Hardik Patel and Alpesh Kathiria fractions. Alpesh supporters and Hardik supporters clashed in a programme because Alpesh’s photo was not placed. They felt that while Alpesh is in Jail, Hardik is in ‘Mahal’ (is enjoying luxurious life).
Hardik faced opposition from the local public at Holi event in Jamnagar and while he was shooting for a Gujarati TV news channel in Ahmedabad’s Prahladnagar Garden. It shows that he has lost public support. But yes, he managed to get his PAAS members Lalit Kagathara, Lalit Vasoya and Geeta Patel tickets.
Against this, BJP seems stronger. BJP had started its preparation very early with campaigns like ‘Sampark for Samarthan’, ‘Maro pariwar BJP pariwar’. PM Narendra Modi has been visiting Gujarat since 2017 and in last March, his speech at Ahmedabad civil Hospital, people cheered and expressed anger against Congress and its allies pro Pakistan stand. Gujarat people remember well the pain of terrorists attacking Akshardham Temple and trauma centre at Civil Hospital. They know that PM Modi has allowed brave Bharatiya soldiers to go into Pakistan territory and attack terrorists’ camps. He had also allowed brave Bharatiya soldiers to do surgical strike after Udi attack.
So, in Gujarat, the BJP is banking on the popularity of Narendra Modi and his works during the last five years. But there is an addition too. On March 30, when BJP president Amit Shah filed his nomination, there was a show of strength. Not only, NDA allies leaders like Ramvilas Paswan and Prakash Singh Badal remained present, but there was surprise presence of Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena supremo. Shiv Sena and Uddhav have been critical of Modi and his government and that become headline in Gujarati media, as many people are a fan of Shiv Sena ex-chief late Balasaheb Thackeray after Narendra Modi as Hindu Hruday Samrat. So, Amitbhai’s candidature from Gandhinagar seat where stalwarts leaders like Purushottam Mavalankar, LK Advani, Atal Behari Vajpayee had won, will boost BJP worker’s enthusiasm.
Last time, Gujarat gave all 26 seats to BJP as its own popular Narendrabhai was PM candidate. After BJP remained restricted to 99 seats, political observers thought that this time it wouldn’t be the case. But looking at Narendrabhai’s popularity, candidate’s strength, BJP organisation’s strength, it looks BJP has upper hand.