The BJP is confident of pulling off a hat-trick in Gujarat

The party’s “uncontested” victory in Surat, however, has prompted questions about the integrity of the democratic process in the State.

Published : Apr 29, 2024 15:50 IST - 5 MINS READ

BJP supporters at Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s election roadshow in Kalol on April 18, the day before he filed his nomination from Gandhinagar.

BJP supporters at Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s election roadshow in Kalol on April 18, the day before he filed his nomination from Gandhinagar. | Photo Credit: ANI

The BJP won all 26 Lok Sabha seats in the general elections of 2014 and 2019 in Gujarat, and as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a third term in office, his brand value appears undiminished in his home State. The eagerness to re-elect “aapdo manoos” (our man) as “bada Pradhan” (Prime Minister) overrides every other consideration. The State votes in the third phase on May 7..

In Surat, the BJP won before a single vote was cast in the State. The nomination papers of the Congress candidate, Nilesh Kumbhani, were cancelled after his proposers wrote to the police saying that their signatures on the papers had been forged. Kumbhani had played a prominent role in the Patidar agitation of 2015-16.

The nomination of the Congress’ “dummy” candidate, Suresh Padsala, was also rejected: “discrepancies” were apparently found in the signatures of his proposers.

All other candidates from the seat withdrew, and the BJP’s Mukesh Dalal was announced “elected unopposed”. The incident may have dented the BJP’s image at the national level, but the electorate in Gujarat is unfazed. Naushad Mamti, who is in the transport business, said: “It has become normal in Gujarat. The BJP has mastered the art of winning over opposition leaders. People have unfortunately turned a blind eye to these things.” Deepal Trivedi, a journalist, said: “A large section of the Gujarati community believes these are ‘smart moves’ that help leaders to survive in politics.”

Also Read | ‘I am fighting this election to stop BJP’s divisive agenda’: Paresh Dhanani

Indeed, the BJP seems confident of its prospects in the State despite some initial hiccups involving Kshatriyas over something that the BJP candidate from Rajkot, Parshottam Rupala, said. Rupala, who is the Union Minister for Animal Husbandry, Dairy and Fisheries, said that Dalits were the true keepers of Sanatana Dharma because Kshatriyas, whom he called the “maharajas”, had formed family relations with foreign rulers such as the British. This sparked an agitation seeking cancellation of Rupala’s candidature marked by a huge rally in Rajkot and protests across Saurashtra and northern Gujarat. The BJP refused to succumb.

The Kshatriya-Rajput community accounts for nearly 7 per cent of the State’s population and has traditionally backed the BJP. A section of Rajputs launched a State-wide tour to mobilise the community against voting for the BJP. P.T. Jadeja, president of International Rajput Samaj, said: “We will appeal to the people to vote for the Congress to defeat the BJP’s arrogance. Despite our community supporting the BJP for all these years, they have ignored our honest and only demand.”

Mukesh Dalal of the BJP receives the Certificate of Election after winning unopposed from Surat, on April 22.

Mukesh Dalal of the BJP receives the Certificate of Election after winning unopposed from Surat, on April 22. | Photo Credit: PTI

Rupala’s Congress opponent, Paresh Dhanani, has seized on the issue. “The BJP keeps dividing communities. Now they have disrespected the Rajput daughters. Before that, they were calling women of Patidar community names,” he said. Hari Desai, a local journalist, said that the BJP is comfortably placed notwithstanding the protests. “First, the Kshatriya community is small in size. Second, they won’t be able to generate support from other communities. Otherwise, the BJP leadership would have tried to make amends.”

Congress lacks dedicated candidates

The BJP’s position is also strengthened by the Congress’ lack of dedicated candidates. The Congress had fielded its former social media cell national president Rohan Gupta in Ahmedabad East. Gupta backed out, citing his father’s ill health. Then, within a week, he joined the BJP.

Notwithstanding its undisputed political dominance in Gujarat, the BJP does not let go of any opportunity to thwart the Congress. Deepal Trivedi believes that the BJP plays a psychological game. “After Congress leaders switch sides, the workers get upset. Their confidence gets shattered. Even in the worst of times, the Congress has retained a 30 per cent vote share. So, any sign of a fight would boost the morale of Congress workers. The BJP leadership understands this well and it works to demoralise Congress workers and the voters,” said Trivedi.

  • The BJP appears confident about winning all 26 seats once again in Gujarat, as it did in 2014 and 2019.
  • The BJP candidate in Surat was elected unopposed after the Congress candidate’s nomination was rejected.
  • The Kshatriya community is upset with the BJP but does not seem to have made a difference to the party’s plans.

The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have joined hands in Gujarat to avoid splitting of votes. The Congress is contesting in 24 seats and AAP in two, Bhavnagar and Bharuch.

Bharuch will witness an interesting battle between the BJP’s Mansukhbhai Vasava and the AAP’s Chaitar Vasava. The Bharatiya Tribal Party’s Chhotubhai Vasava has fielded his son Dilip in the seat.

Congress workers expect their candidates to do well in Banaskantha, Sabarkantha, Amreli, Valsad, and Surendranagar. State president Shaktisinh Gohil told Frontline that the Congress’ performance will surprise the nation. “It is true that people voted wholeheartedly for the BJP in 2014 and 2019. But this time, the State will not be a cakewalk for the party,” said Gohil.

Also Read | Dissent threatens BJP unity in Gujarat

In the Assembly election of 2022, the BJP got 156 of the 182 seats and secured 52 per cent of the votes. The Congress was a distant second with 17 MLAs, while the AAP got 5 seats. The Congress’ vote share was 28 per cent, and the AAP’s 12 per cent.

Back in 1985, the Congress’ Madhavsinh Solanki led the party to a historic win with 149 seats. The BJP broke that record in 2022 and can now be said to be positioned at the peak of its political strength. Sustaining this peak is the challenge. But for this Lok Sabha election, Gujarati voters look set to vote to return Modi to power.

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