Gujarat polls: Visavadar wants to punish BJP for 'insulting' Keshubhai & Patidars
Barring a handful of old-timers, few in Junagadh district's Visavadar believe that the constituency had once elected a Muslim woman - Madinaben Nagori - to the Vidhan Sabha. This was over half a century ago, a different era in politics.
It is said since then, Visavadar hasn't elected a non-Patidar as MLA. This is hardly surprising as Patidars form over 40% of the population in the constituency.
Keshubhai Patel's stronghold
Since 1995 Visavadar has been the stronghold of Patel chieftain Keshubhai Patel, who won this seat in 1995 and 1998 on a BJP ticket. However, after Narendra Modi became chief minister, Patel was sidelined and did not contest from here. Kanubhai Bhalala won this seat in 2002 and 2007. But Patel had his revenge in 2012 when he contested on a Gujarat Parivartan Party ticket and defeated BJP's Bhalala. But after he merged his party back with the BJP and resigned from the seat.
It provided an opening to the Congress whose candidate Harshad Ribadiya won the bypoll in 2014, which was held along with the Lok Sabha elections. He defeated Keshubhai's son Bharat Patel.
Some of Keshubhai Patel's supporters allege that a section within BJP sabotaged Bharat Patel's election.
"The Lok Sabha election and the bypoll were held together. Within Visavadar, BJP got more votes than Congress in the Lok Sabha polls but less votes in the Assembly bypoll which Bharatbhai was contesting. This was due to internal sabotage," Mansukhbhai, a Keshubhai Patel supporter alleged.
While one can't say whether there was en element of sabotage, it is true that many people who voted for BJP in the Lok Sabha election, voted for Congress at the Assembly level.
Lok Sabha election
Therefore, Keshubhai's son got 11,863 votes less than the BJP candidate in the Lok Sabha polls.
This time the BJP didn't give a ticket to Keshubhai's son and it is believed that the Patel chieftain is tacitly backing the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti and, by extension, the Congress.
However, Keshubhai's supporters say Bharat Patel was offered the ticket and he rejected.
"Bharatbhai refused to contest when the BJP offered him," says Mansukhbhai, adding that this time he would not vote for the BJP because it "insulted Keshubhai".
Avenging insult to Patidars or Patidar leaders like Keshubhai Patel is a dominant theme among many Patidars in Visavadar.
"BJP has insulted the Patidar samaj. Their police fired bullets at us. Their policies have harmed farmers. A majority of Patidars will vote against it this time," says Dilipbhai who lives in a village near Visavadar.
"Every community is raising its voice against the BJP in Gujarat. But what do you get when you raise your voice? You are beaten up and bullets and fired at you," Gandhi had said during his rally in Visavadar on 30 November, referring to the 14 Patel youths who died in police firing during the Patidar agitation in 2015.
It is in Visavadar that Gandhi said "Modi is a better actor than Amitabh Bachchan".
The Patidar agitation and the sidelining of Keshubhai Patel has deeply harmed BJP in Visavadar.
In the 2015 local body elections, BJP drew a blank in the Taluka Panchayat elections in Visavadar, with the Congress bagging all the seats.
The Congress has fielded Harshadbhai Ribadiya who had won the bypoll in 2014, while the BJP has fielded Kiritbhai Patel.
Given the anger among Patidars, BJP will find it very difficult to win the seat.
Besides a Patidar population of over 40%, the seat also has 10% Dalits, most of whom are likely to vote for the Congress. Muslims are 8% in the seat overall but are 17% in Visavadar town.
Some anti-Muslim messages were circulated on WhatsApp in Visavadar town but the propaganda was promptly countered by PAAS cadres who carried out a counter campaign that Muslims aren't their enemies.
This was helped by Hardik Patel statements in a number of rallies that Patidars must learn from Muslims who to consolidate their votes.
With the BJP pushed to a corner in Visavadar and among Patidars across Gujarat, Keshubhai Patel might just have the last laugh.