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For BJP, Rajkot-West may not be easy pickings in 2017

Rutam Vora Rajkot | Updated on January 27, 2018 Published on November 13, 2017

CM Vijay Rupanifaces a challengein a constituency devoted to the Sangh

Ever since 1968, the days of the Jan Sangh, Rajkot West has been a saffron stronghold. But in the Assembly elections this December, the constituency is set to witness one of the fiercest battles in years.

And though the main parties are yet to officially declare their candidates, there are at least two likely names: sitting MLA and State Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, and his bête noire, Congress heavyweight Indranil Rajguru.

It was in October 2014 that Rupani first contested from Rajkot West, after seven-time MLA and former Gujarat Speaker Vajubhai Vala was made Karnataka Governor a month earlier. In the by-poll, Rupani had defeated the Congress’ Jayanti Kalaria with a margin of over 23,000 votes.

Eyeing an opportunity to upset the BJP and an incumbent chief minister, Rajguru, the Congress MLA from Rajkot East, demanded that the party high-command shift him to West. In 2012, Rajguru had secured a winning margin of over 4,200 votes.

Rajkot West is the largest constituency in the Saurashtra region — it has an electorate of over 3.15 lakh — and a large number of them are businessmen, entrepreneurs, academicians and influencers, who have traditionally supported the BJP.

In the elections of 2002, a confident BJP had asked Vala, now Karnataka Governor, to vacate the seat for newly-appointed chief minister Narendra Modi, who was contesting his maiden election. Since then, Rajkot West has been called the ‘CM seat’ in BJP circles.

Despite a high concentration of Patidars, the Hardik Patel-led reservation movement remains ineffective here, with not much takers in the West constituency.

A tour of the city, which has been nominated to the 100 smart cities under Centre’s Smart City Mission — reveals the mood of voters and the close contest between Rupani and Rajguru. While Rajguru projects himself as a Brahmin face in the Patidar-dominated campaign, Rupani has the advantage of being a ‘chief minister’ representative.

While BJP hoardings say “Rajkot Vijay Bhava” (appealing for Rupani’s victory), those of Rajguru describe him as one of their “own son-of-soil”. Interestingly, BJP posters do not feature Modi as the central figure.

“Perhaps because Rupani is the home-grown leader, the party doesn’t need Modi to connect with voters. Also, while fighting against a heavywight like Rajguru, there is the risk of any unfavourable outcome. In that case, responsibility of a loss can be easily fixed,” says a senior journalist following political developments in the city.

Commenting on election battle, VP Vaishnav, Secretary at Rajkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says, “There are no major issues in the Rajkot city. But having a chief minister as the representative is itself an advantage. There has been good progress on infrastructure with new airport, water from the Narmada Canal, road connectivity with Ahmedabad, new GIDCs, etc. What is to be seen is the implementation on announcements such as Smart City and AIIMS for Rajkot. Rajguru, on the other hand, is a resource-rich person and can give a good fight to Rupani.”

Rajkot is among the 89 seats, where polling will take place in first phase on December 9.

National issues of demonetisation and the GST rollout, around which the Congress has weaved its campaign, seem to be non-issues in Rajkot, especially after the latest GST Council announcements and easing of return filing norms. It is to be seen on December 9, whether Rajkot West upsets the Chief Minister or listens to the BJP’s tune of vikas (development).

Published on November 13, 2017
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