UP local body election results re-energises BJP in Saurashtra

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on January 27, 2018 Published on December 03, 2017

The BJP sweep of the local body elections in Uttar Pradesh seems to have come as a shot-in-the-arm for the saffron party in Gujarat as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Sunday, exuded confidence of his party returning to power in Gandhinagar.

“In 2017, a BJP tornado is building up,” he said at an election rally in Surendranagar, the Gateway to the Saurashtra region. “My prediction about UP has come true and so it will be in Gujarat.”

But the man sitting next to him, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, came under a cloud last week when an audio clip, purportedly having his voice, went viral. In the controversial audio, he is allegedly asking a BJP leader from Surendranagar, who had filed nomination as a rebel Independent, to withdraw. “You know, our position, in particular mine, has turned kafodi (shaky)!”

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\It was not clear, however, whether he was talking about the BJP’s shaky ground in the State or in Saurashtra, or his own — he is contesting from Modi’s former Assembly constituency, Rajkot-West. But the message, nevertheless, spoke volumes about the unease in the party.

Clearly, the BJP is worried about its performance in the Saurashtra region that goes to vote on December 9. Modi himself has visited eight places to canvas support and will tour another half-a-dozen places until December 7. BJP President Amit Shah has parked himself in Gujarat and is also canvassing support.

At best, therefore, some people in Saurashtra, with 48 Assembly seats up for grabs, see the poll results not as a one-horse race but a mixed one, like the region’s famous khichdi. Businessmen like Bhagchand in Rajkot and Kiritbhai in Junagarh even claim that only an “EVM revolution” could save the BJP! The basis for their claim is that Hardik Patel’s rallies and its live streaming on social media — since some of the TV news channels are trying to ‘ignore’ him — have attracted more ‘footfalls’.

In fact, of late, Hardik has been holding road-shows and rallies, parallel to the PM and the CM’s and to much greater success. The government authorities, which initially denied him the permission for rallies and even booked him for violating it, stopped doing so when the crowds continued to throng him, nevertheless.

The BJP won 37 (2002), 38 (2007) and 34 seats (2012) respectively in the last three consecutive Vidhan Sabha elections, against the Congress’ 15, 14 and 14. Twenty of these seats were won or lost by them with a margin less than 10,000 votes, at a time when Modi and “Gujarat model” had been glittering and synonymous, there were no Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore or Jignesh Mevani, and Rahul Gandhi was not temple-hopping.

In other words, out of 48 seats, the outcome in these 20 seats could probably make or mar the BJP and the Congress’ fortunes. In Bhavnagar, Gujarat BJP President Jitu Vaghani, too, appears to be on a sticky wicket due to a number of issues. These include the farm unrest, the Patidar factor, and the continuing protest by a section of the Karadia Rajput community over local issues. Both he and Rupani are seen as Amit Shah’s camp followers.

As campaigning reached a crescendo for the December 9 vote, curiously, the Congress Party, and its Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, seemed to be lagging behind Hardik Patel, the Patidar quota warrior who has become a nightmare to the BJP.

The beauty of this month’s Assembly elections in Gujarat is that a 23-year-old youth, without a political party or organisational support, many of whose supporters have deserted him, has attracted more crowds than a 67-year-old Prime Minister.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have never faced such a formidable challenger, least of all on their own home turf. Whatever the poll outcome, Hardik Patel, and to some extent Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani, have proved that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

While the BJP has had to stretch itself to the limits, the Congress, too, had to come down from its high horse in Gujarat, virtually outsourcing its fortunes to the non-Congress Young Turks.

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Published on December 03, 2017
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