Why is BJP president Amit Shah sweating it out in the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency though it has returned a BJP candidate nine times in a row?
Even a lamp post on BJP’s symbol would have won from the Gandhinagar seat is the common refrain of politically aware citizens of Gujarat. Why then is Amit Shah, known to be the master strategist of BJP, holding not just one but three road shows and addressing a dozen public meetings?
“Amit Ji can win easily even without campaigning,” say BJP workers. “But he wants to win the election with a record margin of votes, at least with a margin significantly higher than the victory margin of party veteran LK Advani he has replaced as candidate from the Gandhinagar seat,” they point out.
Advani had won the 2014 Lok Sabha election by a margin of 4,63,121 votes. It would be a sort of stigma on his image if Shah wins with a lesser margin of votes than Advani’s victory margin in the last general election, argue BJP workers.
Hence the extra campaign miles Shah is running now. On March 30, the day he filed his nomination for candidature, Shah held a road show in Ahmedabad for which a large number of women from surrounding villages were mobilized by milk cooperatives and district cooperative bank controlled by the BJP. He followed this up with another road show in Gandhinagar.
Before filing the nomination papers at the Gandhinagar Collector’s office, Shah also addressed a rally along with Shiromani Akali Dal’s Parkash Singh Badal, Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan and BJP leaders Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari.
The BJP chief then held another road show and a public meeting in Gandhinagar, the state capital on April 6 and in Kalol, an industrial town between Gandhinagar and Mehsana. He plans to hold a bigger road show in Ahmedabad on the last day of campaign.
This apart, his campaign team headed by Harshad Patel is supervising the door-to-door campaign by party workers who have been organized into a group of five for each of the 5.400 polling booths. Having been the campaign manager for former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani for their election from the Gandhinagar seat from 1991 to 2014, Shah knows his constituency and key village and ward level party workers too well.
It is in micro-level booth management strategy and tactics that Shah is reputed to be an expert. Having been a director of the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank which received the highest amount of ₹500 and ₹1000 demonetized currency notes in the entire country within a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the drastic step, Shah has very deep pockets to manage polling agents and party workers from booth level up to the district level.
Congress has fielded its MLA C J Chavda against Shah. Chavda, a two-time MLA from Gandhinagar-North Assembly seat, says he will give a tough fight to Shah in the Lok Sabha polls. In comparison to Shah’s financial status, Chavda comes from a modest economic background. However, the Congress nominee enjoys the support of his Thakore (OBC) community which, along with the Patels and Muslims constitute over 60 per cent of the population of the Gandhinagar constituency.
Former chief minister Shankarsinh Vaghela, who had represented the Gandhinagar constituency in the Lok Sabha in 1989, and is now with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), is campaigning for Chavda. Besides Patidar youth leader Hardik Patel, who has become a star campaigner for the Congress ever since he joined the party last month, is expected to influence the Patel voters in Chavda’s favour.
More worrying, however, for Shah is the silent resentment among the BJP rank and file as well as some state and district level leaders against the BJP chief’s ‘dictatorial’ attitude and ‘arrogant’ behaviour towards them. A section of BJP workers belonging to the Patel community, who are loyal to former chief minister Anandiben Patel, are also not happy by the denial of party ticket to her daughter Anar Patel who wanted to contest the Lok Sabha election from Gandhinagar.
Anandiben Patel, before being sent to Madhya Pradesh as the governor, was a four-term member of the Gujarat assemnbly having contested and won from Ghatlodiya constituency in the 2012 elections with a margin of more than 175,000 votes, the highest in the election. Ghatlodiya is part of the Gandhinagar parliamentary constituency.
Though Gandhinagar is considered a safe seat for BJP, Shah’s dream of winning with a margin of votes higher than his predecessor to prove he is more popular than the party veteran L K Advani appears tough to realise.