Lok Sabha polls: BJP, Cong try to set Houses in order

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on December 31, 2018

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Congress President Rahul Gandhi during a function to celebrate NCP chief Sharad Pawar's 75th birthday at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on Thursday. PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore (PTI12_10_2015_000305A)   -  PTI

With barely four months to go for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, both the ruling BJP and the main Opposition Congress are trying to set their respective houses in order in Gujarat, the home State of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah.

Even a year after the last Vidhan Sabha elections in December 2018, neither the BJP nor the Congress is sure to repeat their respective performances. While the BJP managed to retain power with its Assembly seats reduced from 117 to 99 in a House of 182, the Congress, in an impressive show, had won 70 seats against 44 in the outgoing Vidhan Sabha and suffered defection of 15 MLAs, led by former CM Shankersingh Vaghela in August 2017.

‘Reaping rich harvest’

Gujarat was where Congress President Rahul Gandhi ‘rediscovered’ his Hindu roots and the party reaped a rich harvest last month when it returned to power in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

But the Congress could not retain this momentum in Gujarat as the BJP subsequently weaned away its veteran OBC leader Kunwarji Bavaliya and made him a Cabinet minister. In a by-election in December, Bavaliya retained his Assembly seat, defeating his Congress rival by wide margin, boosting the morale of the BJP.

This defeat revived dissidence in the Congress, as a section of party leaders demanded the replacement of an ‘inactive’ Gujarat Congress chief Amit Chavda. A meeting was held at the residence of former GPCC President Arjun Modhvadia, while a group went to New Delhi, pushing for Chavda’s removal.

AICC Treasurer Ahmed Patel air-dashed to pacify the Gujarat dissidents, at a time when the Grand Old Party (GOP) is grappling with portfolio distribution in the three States. Chavda has not been on good terms with Leader of the Opposition Paresh Dhanani. Intense groupism and intra-party squabbles have frittered away the gains the GOP made only a year ago.

Pacifying Patidars

The BJP is also trying to put its House in order. The performance of its government led by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has been lacklustre, with a few fresh initiatives. The BJP leadership recently tried to mollify the powerful Patidar community, with which it has had difficult times since 2015 due to the Hardik Patel-led pro-quota agitation. In a bid to make the community feel ‘important’ again, the party appointed veteran Patidar leader Gordhan Zadaphia in-charge of the party affairs in Uttar Pradesh.

Zadaphia was the Minister of State for Home during the Godhra riots in 2002. Subsequently, he fell out with the then CM Narendra Modi, and floated his regional outfit. He returned to the party fold in 2015. Zadaphia is likely to be tasked to meet the situation in UP, in case his former mentor Pravin Togadia, Aantar-Rashtriya (International) Hindu Parishad chief, raises the ante on the Ayodhya issue.

But, according to party sources, Zadaphia’s apparent ‘elevation’ — Amit Shah was the party in-charge of UP in 2014 — is unlikely to change the outcome of LS polls in UP. On the contrary, his presence in UP could prove to be counter-productive as he was the Minister of State for Home in 2002.

It will be interesting to know if the BJP retains its veteran LK Advani, 91, as its party candidate in 2019, in the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency.

Published on December 31, 2018

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