Gujarat polls: BJP in tight spot in Tharad and Vav in Banaskantha district
Gujarat doesn't have much of a winter to write home about, and this December, as election campaigning reached its crescendo, the mercury – at least the political mercury – has soared. The tension reflects in the way the top 'uns of both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have started going for each other.
The last day of the campaigning showcased how: If the BJP tried to browbeat the Congress by connecting it to Pakistan (nothing less would have suffice, perhaps), the grand old party was not to be left far behind.
A distraction from what? Simple, From an inept BJP government in Gujarat. In fact, that has been the young Gandhi's pitch of late. That, opposed to the BJP's claim of developing Gujarat, it has actually mismanaged the state for more than a couple of decades now.
Take, for example, his attack on the BJP at a rally in Tharad Monday night. “Modiji sometimes talks about Pakistan, sometimes about China, Japan and even Afghanistan. Modiji, this election is about the future of Gujarat. Talk about Gujarat too,” he said.
His barb met with a loud applause from at this Assembly constituency in Banaskantha district.
The crowd was massive. Did that egg Gandhi on? Sample this: “The prime minister says Congress has been decimated, yet half his speeches are about the party. The rest 50% is all about him,” he said with a smile.
Modi alone was not at the receiving end. BJP President Amit Shah also had to bear the brunt. “Modiji is scared of Shah and that is why he never talks about Jay Shah,” Gandhi alleged, before turning his attention to Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
“Just like a radio, Shah tunes Rupani from Delhi. He turns the tuner right and Rupani turns right. He turns it left and Rupaniu turns left,” the Gandhi scion said. The crowd burst into laughter. More digs were to follow:
“First, they said elections would be fought on Narmada, but you people said the canal keeps breaking and you haven't received any water. The BJP immediately took a right turn and said 'no Narmada'. It then said, 'we will fight on the issue of OBCs', but the OBCs said nothing has been done. They again took a right turn and said lets talk about vikaas.”
No sooner he said 'vikaas' – development – many from the crowd shouted: “Vikas gando thayo che (Development has gone crazy).”
Gandhi, set to take the reins of his party later this week, thanked the crowd for giving him love and said Gujarat would always be special to him. And why not? The rally reportedly drew a crowd of 1.5 lakh from Tharad as well as the neighbouting Vav – a surprise even for the local party members.
“So many people wouldnt have turned up even for Modhey are excited about Rahul and the Congress,” said Velijibhai Prajapati from Suigaon village – one of the thousands who clogged the streets after the rally.
Who would win Tharad, this correspondent asked a local. The answer came from a group: They confidently claimed that the Congress would bag not only Tharad, but Vav and Radhanpur as well. All three seats are in north Gujarat.
“Who is winning Tharad and Vav? Look at the crowd here and you should have your answer,” said Ramjibhai Thakor of Morwada village, pointing at the crowd.
Holding Gandhi's rally at Tharad was a strategic decision: the constituency was carved out of Vav and Deodar in 2012, after the delimitation exercise. The taluka shares its borders with Vav – merely eight kilometers awaywere . In 2012, Vav and Tharad elected Shankersinh Chaudhary and Parbatbhai Patel, both from the BJP, respectively.
While Chaudhary won with a comfortable margin against Congress' Geniben Thakor, in Tharad the difference was a mere 3,473 votes. Much has changed since then and now both those leaders, who are also ministers, face tough competition.
Reports suggest a victory for Geniben this time. Amiranjibhai Thakor claims close to 70,000 among the the approximately 2.3 lakh voters are from the community. “Thakors will vote for Geniben, along with Chaudharys, Dalits, Muslims, Kshatriyas, Prajapatis, among others. This means a sure-shot victory for her, which has unnerved the BJP,” said Amiranjibhai.
The sentiment was similar among people from Vav. “He (candidate Chaudhary) says something and does something else. Moreover, he has become very arrogant and was missing when floods wrecked havoc in Vav. It is unlikely he will win,” said Veljibhai.
In fact, former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta seemed convinced about Chaudhary's defeat in Vav. “He is in a very difficult position and his loss would be a great setback for the BJP, considering he is very close to both Modi and Shah,” Mehta said.
Congress can't rest easy though. Its fate will depend on whether the dominant Thakor community, from other backward classes, vote for it. OBCs constitute nearly 60% of the population of the two districts and Thakors outnumber others by a huge margin. No doubt, Rahul spoke about OBCs specifically, hoping to add them in Congress' KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) formula.
Also, the party's hopes in Tharad could be dashed by Mavjibhai Patel, who was denied the ticket in favour of former Youth Congress president DD Rajput. A disappointed Patel is fighting as an Independent. He lost to BJP's Parbatbhai in 2012.
All said, the Congress does looks to be at an advantage in Banaskantha district. Whether it can convert that into seats, or whether the BJP will stage an encore remains to be seen.
Edited by Joyjeet Das