Gujarat elections: Discontent brews in state BJP as loyal cadres sidelined in favour of turncoats
Experience has it that the turncoats have more often than not fallen victim to the use-and-throw strategy of the ruling party
A storm of protests is brewing over the selection of candidates in Gujarat as a bloated BJP burns the midnight oil to keep its shaking ship on even keel.
With 38 BJP legislators getting the axe in the first list of 160, which contains a mix of 40 patidar candidates and 49 from the Other Backward Castes(OBC), the bubbling broth saw discontent surface and flow over. In fact, ten of the eleven legislators who were on the stage at a public engagement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently, did not figure in the list of candidates making for a total of 178 announced by the party. State unit president C.R. Patil termed it a generational shift as more tickets have been given to young and aspiring party leaders. The second list of six has also seen two sitting MLAs, both women being dropped, while the third one has 12 names and was announced on November 14 in which Alpesh Thakore has been fielded from Gandhinagar (south) taking the total number of names declared to 178 of the total 182 member House.
However, those who were dropped did not feel as enthused. There are at least 22 of the 166 seats where candidates have been announced so far, leading to eruption of protests. These have been heightened by the fact that turncoats from the Congress have found favour at the cost of loyal cadres who have done duty for decades. State-level leaders including party chief Patil and even home minister Harsh Sanghvi, initially drafted to mollify those left out, failed miserably. Subsequently former chief minister Vijay Rupani, union minister Purshottam Rapala, Mansukh Mandavia and Pradipsinh were drafted to deal with the tense situation. Highly placed sources said that union Home Minister Amit Shah rushed to Gujarat under directions from the Prime Minister to take charge and diffuse the situation. He has been camping here.
The all-pervasive dissent particularly in seats where Congress turncoats have been preferred to party loyalists may well lead to saffron workers becoming inactive. Late last week, the state home minister Harsh Sanghvi was rushed to Vadodara where a sitting legislator and two former ones threatened to jump into the fray as independents. Madhu Shrivastava, the sitting legislator from Waghodia, Vadodara has refused all overtures, and is threatening to contest as an independent as are the other two, Satish Patel and Dinesh patel from Karjan and Padra in the same district. The three did not attend Sanghvi-convened meetings. Mahendra Kaswala, allotted the Savarkundla ticket is up against an outsider and has the ‘anti-farmer’ tag as he hails from Ahmedabad. Those eyeing the seat have warned him of defeat. Such has been the pressure, that the BJP candidate allotted the party ticket from Wadhawan in Surendranagar district expressed her unwillingness to contest though she did not give any reason for her decision. There is similar resentment against Patidar stir leaders Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakore who quit the Congress to join the BJP and were given the mandate from Viramgam and Gandhinagar.
Supporters of Jhankhana Patel, the party legislator from Choryasi in Surat who had bagged her seat with the second highest margin of over a lakh votes in 2017, next only to chief minister Bhupendrabhai Patel, took to the streets protesting against the logic of dropping a high-achieving winner. Another MLA, Kesrisinh Solanki elected from Matar but dropped this time, resigned and joined AAP but was back in the BJP after a call from Delhi. There were reports of protests from Wankaner, Talala, Botad, Mahuva, Kalawad in the Saurashtra region as well as Becharaji, Visnagar, Deesa, Dhanera, Mehsana, Himmatnagar and Vijapur in North Gujarat.
At least ten of the total 19 Congress legislators or their relatives who switched sides to the BJP after 2017 have been given tickets, leading to a lot of heartburn amongst saffron cadres who have been ranged against them in grassroot rivalry. Then there were those who had switched sides before 2017 and have been second time lucky. These include Balvant Rajput, Raghavji Patel and Jayesh Radadia, Kunvarji Bavalia and Jawahar Chavda, Mansinh Chauhan and Kunvarji Halpati.
”A party which disrespects its own senior leaders to give their mandate merely to wean away their opponents can no longer lay claim to value-based politics. It is nothing but crass opportunism,” points out Dr Manish Doshi, Congress spokesperson.
Doshi has a point in the example of Mohansinh Rathwa, a congress veteran and ten-times party MLA who recently quit the Congress to join the BJP and was immediately obliged with a party ticket for his son.
Similarly, Bhagwanbhai Barad, Congress legislator who had been sentenced to imprisonment in a case of illegal limestone mining and had been disqualified by the Speaker on March 5, 2019 after his conviction had managed relief from the High Court which had stayed the conviction and therefore the disqualification was rendered inoperative. Interestingly, the then Assembly Speaker, Rajendra Trivedi who had disqualified Barad and subsequently became a Revenue minister in the Bhupendra Patel government has himself been denied a BJP ticket this time. Last week, Barad switched to the BJP and was immediately given the party ticket from his old constituency. It was in near similar vein that Gujarat Congress working president, Hardik Patel’s travails came to an end once he switched horses and the dozens of cases filed against him including those of sedition have not come in the way of his filing his nomination from the saffron party to contest the ensuing polls.
However, many other turncoats were not as lucky. Birjesh Merja, the Morbi legislator who had switched from the Congress to the BJP and was a minister in the Bhupendra Patel government became a victim of the Morbi footbridge collapse that left 134 dead and has been denied a ticket. He has been replaced by BJP old-timer and 5- time MLA Kantilal Amrutiya who was involved in a murder case and later absolved and whom he had defeated. Similarly, the current Vidhan Sabha speaker Nimaben Acharya has been dropped as has been Dharmendrasinh Jadeja from Jamnagar(north) and has been replaced by Revaba Jadeja, wife of cricketer Ravindra Jadeja.
Experience has it that the turncoats have more often than not fallen victim to the use-and-throw strategy of the ruling party.There is Somabhai Patel, a three term MP of the Congress from Surendranagar who quit as Congress MLA in 2020 to join the BJP. He was not given the BJP mandate in the by-election created by his own resignation as well as avoided this time. Congress legislators Pravin Maru from Gadhada and Mangal Gavit elected from Dangs seat in 2017 have both been denied a ticket as has Dhavalsinh Jhala who switched sides to BJP along with Alpesh Thakore. Both lost the by-election created by their own vacancy. Thakore has been accommodated, while Jhala has been left to fend for himself.