Gujarat polls: Why Congress' Shaktisinh Gohil is poised to win in BJP bastion Mandvi
If it were a battle of perception, Gujarat Congress' Shaktisinh Gohil would already be the clear winner in the Mandvi Assembly constituency that goes to polls on 9 December. The fact is all the more surprising as the walls of this citadel of the Bharatiya Janata Party have rarely been breached by the Congress since 1960 when Gujarat was carved out of Maharashtra.
But change appears to be on its way. The Congress can smell victory in Mandvi and the credit goes to party's suave spokesperson, Gohil, who has mesmerised even staunch BJP supporters with his “plain speak and intelligence”. His meetings have drawn huge crowds, a fact conceded by even BJP supporters.
The general sentiment in this BJP bastion is: “Gohil aave che”.
An emboldened Congress
It's 3 pm and the Congress office in the beach town of Mandvi is bustling with activity. Huddled in a corner, several Congress workers are busy discussing the how Gohil is a far superior candidate then his counterpart from the BJP – Virendrasinh Jadeja.
As they narrate Gohil's qualities, a local journalist stops them to ask whether Gohil's clean image and oratory prowess are good enough reasons to win the Mandvi seat. "After all, Mandvi needs much more than a spokesperson, the journalist said.
Heated arguments follow, leading to a man dressed in western formals to intervene.
“I must tell you that that this is the first time in my life that I have entered Mandvi's Congress office. I wanted to meet Gohil and have been very impressed with his conduct and intelligence. I do not know much about BJP's candidate but in my heart, I know Gohil is the man to lead us,” he said.
After his dramatic declaration, Congress leaders rushed to know who he was. “I am Sunil Soni,” he said. When he mentions his father's name, the entire hall claps with joy. Soni's family is among the most prominent business families in the town.
“He would be a blessing for Mandvi. I remember him saying in a rally: choose the right candidate. I think I know what he meant,” Soni said.
When asked whether he was referring to Jadeja, who people know as a muscle man or bahubali, Soni said that he had heard the rumours but would solely choose Gohil for his ability to represent Mandvi and its people. In fact, all around Mandvi there are certain apprehensions amongst the voters on Jadeja.
Another businessman, who on the request of anonymity, said that the business community is petrified with the prospect of Jadeja winning elections. “They believe it will lead to hafta wasooli (weekly donations), brute display of muscle power to intimidate one and all. The Adani group is backing BJP and Jadeja because he won't trouble them, He will create a nuisance in the city,” he said.
Meanwhile, BJP workers and leaders remain unconvinced and mention how Modi won't let Jadeja do anything of that sort. “These rumours are being spread by Congress leaders. Jadeja is a well meaning man who will bring prosperity to the region under the prime minister's guidance,” said Vajaram Gadhvi, chairman, Sapanch Association.
He, like many other BJP workers, is of the opinion that the election is being fought on Modi's name and that the candidate doesn't even matter. According to him, Modi has brought development and prosperity to the region. “Moreover, why is Gohil not contesting from Bhavnagar? He is an outsider and people know that,” said Samantbhai Ghadvi, the sarpanch of Panchotiya.
Upon being reminded that Jadeja is also an outsider, the supporters become silent. “Nobody is local. The Mandvi voter is sensitive and reasonable. They will apply their minds with logic to choose their candidate. Overall, Gohil comes across as a good man and is naturally authentic,” said former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta, who retained the seat from 1975 to 1998. He quit the party in 2002 after differences cropped between him and Modi.
Mehta goes on to add that Gohil's entry in Mandvi has changed the political dynamics and a defeat for the BJP from here will have a far greater impact. Moreover, what could trigger BJP's defeat is the rebellion within its ranks over the decision to give Jadeja the ticket.
Sources in the BJP say this rebellion has seen a massive dip in the energy of BJP's campaign and that many senior leaders are conspiring against Jadeja. There is also this perception that the sitting legislator Tarachand Chedda gave up the seat after being made aware of Congress' decision to field Gohil.
“Chedda wanted to sabotage Jadeja's career who had been breathing down his neck for the past few years. If Jadeja loses, his fate is sealed which benefits two time MLA Chedda,” said a BJP leader.
Moreover, what could also work against BJP is the Patidar movement which gained some foothold amongst the Kadva Patels who are twice in strength as compared to the Leva Patels. Both Gohil and Congress are hoping that the Kadva Patels would swing the tide in their favour.
Interestingly, in 2012, Congress, despite having a lesser known name, lost by only a margin of 8,000 votes, giving hope to the party that the 16,000 Kadva Patel voters would cast their votes in its favour. Even a large section of Muslims, who constitute roughly 25% of Mandvi's population, have traditionally voted for Congress.
Dalits too have been Congress supporters. With Jignesh Mevani extending support to the Grand Old Party, the odds seems to be favouring Gohil. Meanwhile, the Kshatriya vote, who constitute 10% of the Mandvi's population, is set to split between Gohil and Jadeja. The two belong to the community and hold some sway over them.
However, political pundits are not ruling out the Modi wave and repeatedly talk about BJP's organisational structure that has spread to the every nook and corner of the assembly segment. Asmat Khan (name changed to protect his identity) had been associated with BJP for more than a decade and he mentions how each page of the voter list has a separate in charge.
Every page on the voter list has approximately 40 names and the way BJP works, each page has a president who is given the responsibility to ensure that these people are taken care of. “So, to write off BJP would be foolish. Gohil is favourite to win but this election too would go down to wire and the vote difference wont be more than 1000 votes,” he pointed.
Congress workers are confident that a suave and enigmatic Gohil will make BJP taste defeat in its own bastion. If the change does happen in Gujarat, Mandvi would make history by electing two chief ministers from the same constituency.