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Gujarat polls: Can Congress’ Rajyaguru upset Vijay Rupani in Rajkot West?

Aditya Menon | Updated on: 30 November 2017, 18:05 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

It's nearly 10.30 at night and Chief Minister Vijay Rupani's convoy passes from near the Race Course Ring Road in Rajkot, which is still bustling at night. "We have managed to tie him (Rupani) to Rajkot. He won't be able to campaign outside as he knows his own seat is in danger," says a Congress worker.

The worker begins walking towards the Congress campaign office nearby, where Indranil Rajyaguru, the party's candidate against Rupani in Rajkot West, is expected to come anytime soon. A small crowd of party workers and locals has gathered there for a late night informal chat that has become part of Rajyaguru's routine during the campaign.

The candidate finally arrives a little before 11 pm. He has changed from the quintessential neta’s white kurta and Nehru jacket attire, to a sweatshirt and jeans. He comes and sits on the swing - an important part of a Gujarati household - that has been placed outside the door of his office.

Soon after placing himself on the swing, Rajyaguru looks at the party workers gathered there and grins. "Today was excellent. An unexpected response," he said, referring to Hardik Patel's rally near Nana Mava circle in the Rajkot West constituency.

Congress workers say that over one lakh people attended the rally. Though the number can't be verified, there's no doubt that it was a massive show of strength in the CM's constituency.

The constituency

Rajkot West is a BJP bastion. The party hasn't lost the seat since 1985. It has historically been considered an anti-Congress seat. In 1967, the economically right wing and pro-feudal elite Swatantra Party won from here. In 1975, the Jan Sangh won the seat. Since 1985, the seat was represented by BJP veteran and current Governor of Karnataka, Vajubhai Vala.

When Narendra Modi became the chief minister of Gujarat, he contested from Rajkot West, then called Rajkot-II, as it was considered a safe seat. The seat's history goes against Rajyaguru as the Congress has won from here only in 1972 and 1980, both occasions when Indira Gandhi was at the peak of her influence.

The "anti-Congress" nature is said to be mainly due to the high concentration of traders and middle class voters. Upper Castes and Patidars - traditional vote banks of the BJP - form 60% of the electorate in this seat.

But it is this section that is now making matters difficult for Vijay Rupani. According to reports, the seat has 75,000 Patels - 42,000 Kadwa and 33,000 Leuva. Hardik Patel's huge rally in Rajkot West on Wednesday could be a game-changer, the Congress feels.

Aware of the harm he is causing Rupani, Patel spared no opportunity in attacking the Gujarat CM and calling him "Bepani wala Rupani" . He accused the BJP of neglecting Rajkot and making it a den for corruption.

The Congress is also counting on the support of over 20,000 Muslims in the seat and a majority of the 25,000 strong Brahmin community, to which Rajyaguru belongs.

Congress workers feel that even a section of traders who are upset because of the Goods and Services Tax, will vote for the party.

Rajyaguru's image

Rajyaguru is the sitting MLA from Rajkot East but has chosen to contest against Rupani in the BJP bastion. He had begun preparing for the contest since last year.

On being asked why he chose to leave his seat and take on Rupani, he said, "I am opposing Rupani because he has promoted corruption, destroyed law and order and made criminals ministers".

"Rajkot has made chief ministers. But we were made fools in the process. The city got nothing. I want to prevent them from doing the same in Gujarat," he told Catch.

Besides the anger against BJP and community calculations, Rajyaguru is relying on his personal rapport with the people.

“I won’t make any false promises or sell fake dreams. All I can promise is that I will be around for the people whenever they need me and I will remain committed to working for Rajkot,” he said.

Capitalising on his personal connect, Rajyaguru began a ‘Coffee with Congress’ campaign in which people could come and interact with him on any issue connected with Rajkot.

Rajyaguru’s father Sanjaybhai Rajyaguru was also a Congress leader and an influential businessman in the city. The family is into real estate and also owns a hotels and a restaurant.

He also founded the Sanjaybhai Rajyaguru College for Engineering in Rajkot.

Jaydev Ravia, a voter in Rajkot West, says that Rajyaguru did a good job as part of the Municipal Corporation’s standing committee.

“He was the only one who acted against corruption in the Corporation. I have never voted for Congress in my life. But this time I will vote for them,” Ravia says.

Besides his liking for Rajyaguru, Ravia, a businessman, says that BJP needs to be punished for GST and demonetisation.

Another BJP supporter, Shailesh Chavda, says “Rajyaguru will be better for Rajkot. He helps anyone who comes to him. And as he is wealthy, he won’t take a single paisa”.

However, Chavda says he will still vote for the BJP for the sake of PM Modi.

Since both Rupani and Rajyaguru are locals, both parties are playing the Rajkot card. BJP has put up posters saying “Rajkot ‘Vijay’ Bhava’ meaning ‘May Rajkot Win’ will also playing on Vijay Rupani’s name. Rajyaguru’s slogan in Gujarati translates as “Vote for Rajkot, Vote for Indranil”.

Karsanbhai, who runs a shop selling snacks says that both candidates bring different advantages for Rajkot.

“There are obvious advantages that come with being the CM’s constituency, especially in terms of projects and infrastructure. But Indranil (Rajyaguru) is hardworking and he will be better at getting things done in the city,” Karsanbhai says.

Judging by the positive response towards Rajyaguru and the turnout in Hardik Patel’s rally, Rupani has reason to be worried in Rajkot.

It is for this reason that many in Rajkot believe that the alleged audio of CM Rupani making frantic appeals, may indeed be true.

First published: 30 November 2017, 18:05 IST
 
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