Gujarat’s 26 out of 26 seats form a crucial chunk of the whopping 282 Lok Sabha seats that the BJP won in the 2014 general elections. The realisation that a dip of even one seat in Narendra Modi’s prized state would mean it may be worse elsewhere is prompting BJP chief Amit Shah to pull out every stop to drive a spanner in the works of the Congress in Gujarat.
The beginning was made by four-time MLA from Jasdan constituency, former MP and OBC Koli leader Kunwarji Bavaliya, who quit the Congress last week to join the BJP and was made a cabinet minister the very same day. Days before this, former MLA and Rajkot strongman Indraneel Rajyaguru called it quits, though he maintains he will never join the BJP. Rajyaguru, Gujarat’s richest MLA in 2017, had vacated his safe seat of Rajkot East that he won in 2012 and, on Rahul Gandhi’s request, chose to contest from Rajkot West against CM Vijay Rupani in 2017, where he lost. He, however, remained a key Congress figure in Rajkot.
Both former Congress MLAs had similar issues: Aspirations of old timers and genuine partymen were not being heard.
Now, less than three days after Bavaliya’s switch, another OBC leader from the Ahir community, Vikram Madam, a sitting legislator and former two-time Lok Sabha member from Jamnagar district, has threatened to leave the party if his grievances are not settled, though he hasn’t publicly pin-pointed his issues.
Between all this, Mahendrasinh Vaghela, son of heavyweight politician Shankersinh Vaghela, who had resigned ahead of the state assembly elections in 2017, walked out to wear the saffron scarf.
This is not all. The BJP has reportedly been sending feelers to several others. Sources claim that paucity of strong regional leaders in his own party is forcing Amit Shah to look into the Congress camp, where a section of legislators and former MPs have the capability to overturn even a BJP wave.
Those who quit the Congress claim that the seniors and old timers have not been given their due. This began following the generational shift in the Congress leadership, after party president Rahul Gandhi brought in young Patidar leader Paresh Dhanani from Saurashtra region’s Amreli district as the leader of Opposition and Amit Chavda from Anand district as the state president.
“There is a communication gap within the party’s ranks and the new, young team lacks the political dexterity to handle the veterans. Dhanani and Chavda are strong in their own constituencies, but are still to cultivate the leadership qualities to carry the entire unit,” a senior Congress leader requesting anonymity told Outlook.
Amit Shah is tapping into this, his focus being on the key Saurashtra region which is the ‘UP’ of Gujarat politics—it sends the maximum, 52 legislators, to the 182-member state assembly (as many as seven Lok Sabha seats out of the 26 are here) and the caste factor plays a key role, too. In the previous assembly elections, the Congress had made a huge comeback after more than two decades, getting as many as 30 out of 52 seats in the region on the back of the Patidar movement and severe agricultural stress. Rahul Gandhi’s two three-day gruelling tours in Saurashtra ahead of the elections were also instrumental in revving up the Congress cadre.
The BJP knows that Lok Sabha 2019 is not the same as Lok Sabha 2014, even in Gujarat. The indication came in the December 2017 assembly elections when the party staved off defeat by just seven seats. It won 99 seats in all, while the Congress managed 77, improving its tally of 61 in 2012.
For the Congress, the key contribution in this surprisingly improved performance was from Saurashtra. It was exactly the opposite for the BJP there. There are at least four Lok Sabha seats in this region: Amreli, Junagadh, Surendranagar and Jamnagar, under which as many as 23 out of 28 assembly segments are with the Congress. And it is here that the BJP fears its dream of hitting 26 out of 26 again may get shattered.
Besides Saurashtra, BJP president Shah is looking at North Gujarat. The indication came in Mahendrasinh Vaghela’s switchover, legislator for Bayad in the Sabarkantha district. Attempts are also under way to get OBC leader and Radhanpur MLA Alpesh Thakore, who is part of the troika of promising young politicians, the other two being Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani. After the assembly elections, the Congress has a strong presence in the three parliamentary constituencies of Banaskantha, Sabarkantha and Patan, with 11 legislators out of the total 21 segments. This region also presents a challenge to the BJP’s 26 out of 26 dream.
By Darshan Desai in Ahmedabad