BJP deploys cavalry to try and salvage situation in Gujarat, but it's an uphill task
The ruling party in Gujarat is in a tight spot due to intense in-fighting, with several leaders up in arms after being dropped from their constituencies and turn-coats being rewarded
Probably for the first time in the last two decades, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is feeling the need to work overtime to assuage party loyalists and workers ahead of an Assembly election in Gujarat.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has been camping in the state for the fire-fighting operations and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is due to return to the state on November 19 on a three-day visit, is due to address eight poll rallies by Monday.
The BJP has announced that the PM will be returning to the state towards the end of November and will move from door-to-door for two days, distributing voters’ slips to the people and making a personalised appeal to vote for the BJP, again another first for him.
In the last Assembly election in the state, PM Modi had addressed 34 election rallies and it remains to be seen if he surpasses the number this time.
His departure from the state on Monday will incidentally, coincide with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s rallies in the state. The Congress leader, currently participating in the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra', is expected to address two rallies in the state on November 21 and 22. Both PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi are expected to be at Navsari on the same day.
The discomfiture of the BJP in the state has increased following Gujarat High Court’s scathing criticism of the state government’s handling of the Morbi bridge collapse, which officially took 135 lives on October 30.
Dissatisfied with the response of the state government, the HC called for the entire record for the contract awarded to a private firm and asked searching questions. This, coupled with both AAP and Congress putting the BJP in the dock for not booking the company owner, industrialist Jaisukh Patel, is also becoming a poll issue in some parts of the state.
PM Modi and Amit Shah’s focus is especially on the Saurashtra region, where BJP had fared badly in 2017. Four of the PM’s rallies are expected to be held in this region.
This is also the first time that the BJP is facing so many rebel candidates in the state. While Amit Shah has pressed Union ministers and party MPs from Gujarat and almost all BJP chief ministers to campaign in the state and speak to the rebels, the sparks threaten to singe the party in several constituencies.
While senior party leaders like Vijay Rupani and Nitin Patel have ‘voluntarily’ stepped away from the election, their workers in several constituencies are not said to be enthusiastic about campaigning for the official party candidates, especially in those constituencies where new entrants and ‘turncoats’ from the Congress have been given precedence over old loyalists.
Pradipsinh Jadeja, home minister in the Vijay Rupani cabinet, lost his job when the entire cabinet was sacked and replaced last year. He has opted out from the contest this time and his personal assistant Babusinh Jadhav has bagged the BJP ticket for the Vatwa seat in Ahmedabad.
The BJP’s sitting legislator from Waghodia in Vadodara district Madhu Shrivastava, denied a ticket, filed his nomination to contest as an independent. He has reportedly spurned overtures from the party to reconsider his decision to contest against the official candidate.
Rajendrasinh Jadeja, former BJP candidate from Mandvi in Kutch, has also switched allegiance to the Congress.
Dhavalsinh Jhala, who defected from the Congress to the BJP, is contesting as an independent from Bayad in north Gujarat. In Dhanera in Banaskantha district, Mavji Desai, is contesting as an independent.
In Panchmahal, former BJP MP Prabhatsinh Chauhan quit the party and is now the Congress candidate from Kalolas.
Lunawada constituency has two BJP rebels, S.M.Khant and J.P. Patel, contesting as independents.
The first list of the BJP saw 38 legislators getting the axe. State unit president C.R.Patil had then described it as a 'generational shift' and explained that more young and aspiring party leaders had been fielded by the party this time.
The second list of six candidates also saw two sitting MLAs, both women, dropped; the third list of 12 candidates also had several defectors from the Congress, including Alpesh Thakore, disappointing party supporters and loyalists.
Protests erupted in at least 22 constituencies, where BJP party offices were stormed. State level leaders including party chief Patil and home minister Harsh Sanghvi, drafted to mollify the ones dropped from the list, failed to get across to the rebels.
Subsequently, former chief minister Vijay Rupani, Union ministers Purshottam Rupala, Mansukh Mandavia and Pradipsinh were drafted to deal with the tense situation. Amit Shah himself rushed to Gujarat under directions from the Prime Minister to take charge of the situation.
State home minister Harsh Sanghvi was rushed to Vadodara where a sitting legislator and two former MLAs threatened to jump into the fray as independents.
Besides Madhu Shrivastava, the sitting legislator from Waghodia, Vadodara, Satish Patel and Dinesh Patel from Karjan and Padra were also threatening to contest as independent candidates.
None of the three attended the meeting convened by Sanghvi.
Mahendra Kaswala, fielded from Savarkundla, is facing a revolt after being tagged an ‘outsider’ and ‘anti-farmer’ as he hails from Ahmedabad.
The BJP candidate allotted the party ticket from Wadhawan in Surendranagar district expressed her unwillingness to contest in the election.
There is also similar resentment against Patidar stir leaders Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakore who quit the Congress to join the BJP and have been fielded from Viramgam and Gandhinagar respectively.
Supporters of Jhankhana Patel, BJP legislator from Choryasi in Surat, who had won in 2017 with the second highest margin of over one lakh votes in, were upset when she was dropped. They took to the streets to protest.
Kesrisinh Solanki, dropped this time from Matar, resigned and joined the AAP but returned to the BJP after a call from Delhi.
There were reports of protests by BJP workers in Wankaner, Talala, Botad, Mahuva, Kalawad in Saurashtra region as well as from Becharaji, Visnagar, Deesa, Dhanera, Mehsana, Himmatnagar and Vijapur in North Gujarat.
“A party which disrespects and drops its own tested leaders can no longer lay claim to value-based politics. It is nothing but crass opportunism”, pointed out Dr Manish Doshi, Congress spokesperson. He possibly was referring to Mohansinh Rathwa, a Congress veteran and ten-time party MLA who quit the Congress to join BJP and was promptly obliged with a party ticket for his son.
Similarly, Bhagwanbhai Barad, a Congress legislator who had been sentenced to imprisonment in a case of illegal limestone mining case and was disqualified by the Speaker in 2019, joined the BJP last week after the Gujarat High Court stayed the conviction.
The then Speaker, Rajendra Trivedi, who had disqualified Barad and subsequently became revenue minister in the Bhupendra Patel government, has himself been dropped this time. But Barad has been quickly rewarded with a BJP ticket from his old constituency.
As campaigning picks up, the next one week is going to be crucial and will show if the BJP can successfully fight the fire raging in its own ranks in Gujarat.