Jasdan, November 26

The Jasdan Assembly constituency in Gujarat is likely to witness a close contest with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) banking on 'poached' leader Kunvarji Bavaliya, while the Congress hoping to retain the support of the Koli community that he belongs to.

Bavaliya, who switched over from the Congress to the BJP in 2018, retained the seat in the ensuing by-election.

The six-time MLA is now facing a challenge from his former protege Bholabhai Gohil, another Koli leader, who has been fielded by the Congress.

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Jasdan is one of the backward constituencies in the Rajkot district. It will go to the polls in the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections on December 1.

Of its about 2.6 lakh voters, around one lakh belong to the Koli community. This is considered a Congress stronghold due to its committed Koli vote bank, and the BJP has won in only by-elections here.

Kolis are a numerically big OBC community with a strong presence in Saurashtra and South Gujarat. The community is concentrated more in the coastal areas.

Despite failing to win Assembly elections in Gujarat for more than 20 years, the Congress has managed to bag on average 37 per cent votes due to its committed vote banks of Kshatriya-Thakor, Koli, Dalits, Muslims and tribals.

From 1995, Bavaliya won from Jasdan as a Congress candidate four times in a row. He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2009 from Rajkot seat.

Bavaliya lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Rajkot to the BJP. He was once again fielded by the Congress from the Jasdan Assembly seat and registered a comfortable win over Boghra.

In 2017, a rift developed between Bavaliya and the state Congress leadership. Sensing an opportunity, the BJP wooed him into its fold.

He resigned as MLA and won the by-election on BJP ticket in 2018.

Neck and neck

The ruling party has thus until now managed to win Jasdan only in by-polls, with Bhogra winning in 2009 and Bavaliya in 2018.

"It is a very tight contest in Jasdan this time - neck and neck between a teacher and his pupil. It was Bavaliya who brought Bhola Gohil into politics," said political analyst Suresh Samani.

It will have to be seen whether the Koli community goes with Bavaliya or remains loyal to the Congress, he said.

"Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded Tejas Gajipara, a Patel, and he is likely to make a dent in the Patidar vote bank of the BJP. So the contest has become interesting," he added.

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Key issues

In this predominantly agriculture-dependent taluka, farmers and farm labourers are worried about price rise and unemployment.

For Raju Koli of Atkot village, lack of employment and inflation are the key issues.

"Whoever comes to power should think of the poor people like us. We should get employment opportunities, essential things like gas cylinders should be made affordable. The government should think about small people like us," he said.

Ramesh Sondarva, a farm labourer, echoed the view and said people of the state should bring about a change this time.

A gamble

For the BJP, it is a bit of a gamble.

"Kolis have traditionally been Congress voters. By fielding Kunvarji bhai, we expect that some Koli voters will support BJP. We will win this seat with the support of our traditional voters and some Koli votes," BJP's Rajkot district general secretary Mansukh Ramani said.

The Congress is confident that it will win the seat as the Koli community will stay with it.

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"Bholabhai Gohil has built a reputation for himself as a down-to-earth man who works for the people. They respect him and will give their votes to him," said Ranjit Gohil, Congress leader from Jasdan who is handling Gohil's campaign.

"Though Koli votes will be divided between Bavaliya and our candidate, we will get maximum votes and win the seat," he added.