Rajkot: With fresh faces, BJP goes for generational shift


A nearly inconspicuous poster of former chief minister Vijay Rupani at the entrance of Rajkot, a bustling industrial town in Gujarat’s Saurashtra, signifies the generational shift that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has effected in the poll-bound state where older, experienced faces have made way for the new.

The poster, dwarfed by huge hoardings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah along with the state leader and the contestants, is intended to be a reminder of Rupani’s connection with Rajkot. But that’s all there is to his presence in the district — he has chosen to step away from electoral politics; he will no longer be representing his constituency of Rajkot West.

Though the party says he is part of all election-related meetings, Rupani is largely absent.

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The BJP is attempting to reinvent itself in Rajkot, which was the centre of the tumultuous Patidar agitation in 2017. Though the party did not suffer electoral losses here, it does not want anti-incumbency to dent its prospects. Four of the six legislators from the region have been dropped and the party is banking heavily on the performance of the government at the Centre to woo voters, who, in addition to the Congress, have a new option in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) this time.

“Just as there is a new candidate, there is a new ‘oorja’ (energy) in the BJP. While the party won six of the eight seats in Rajkot last time, this time, we will win all eight with bigger margins,” said a party functionary based in the district.

In the coming days ahead of the polling on December 1, a bevy of the BJP’s central leaders are expected to make an appearance in the region. The party’s national president, JP Nadda, addressed a gathering in Rajkot on Friday.

According to a local unit leader who spoke on condition of anonymity, the focus on the central government’s achievements at the Centre is the bedrock of the BJP’s campaign in Rajkot. While there are references to local issues and achievements of the state government, the thrust remains on how well the Modi government administers in Delhi, said the leader.

“We spoke about the food grains that were given free of cost and the vaccines to even rich countries during the mahamari (Covid-19 pandemic),” the leader added.

Recent references by party leaders to a “generational shift” after dropping senior leaders including Nitin Patel, Rupani and Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, have taken shape in the region.

The replacements are an outcome of the feedback that the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), gathered about the incumbents.

However, the absence of veterans and incumbents draws a mixed response. While some of the older residents feel they should have been given a chance to contest, the younger lot are happier with newer leaders emerging.

Rupani as CM may have announced a new All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), but the city still lags behind Ahmedabad and Vadodara, said a resident, asking not to be named.

The resident, who runs an eatery, has been a BJP supporter and said that if the party does not “bring about a quick change”, there is a possibility of the youth being attracted to other outfits.

“The Congress is not an option, nor is the AAP just yet, but who knows what happens in five years. The youth may want to give a chance to someone else,” he said.

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To ensure the party’s performance is not blighted by infighting, senior leaders were deputed to iron out intra-party differences and ensure all hands on deck.

The party also made concerted efforts to woo the Patidar and the Koli communities that can sway the electoral outcome.

“Leuva Patels are the main group of electors in Rajkot. In Jasdan, the Congress won the seat last time with support from the Kolis; this time, we have campaigned to reach out to the communities,” said the Rajkot-based leader quoted above.

Doraji and Jasdan assemblies picked the Congress in 2017.

Another recurring complaint In Rajkot is the pace of development and inflation.

“The BJP has not been able to do anything about prices that hurt the common man. They make promises but have not done much since Modi ji left the state. In our community, there is a growing sentiment that we will either give the AAP a chance or skip voting,” said Rahul (he goes by one name) who comes from the Darzi community, which is included in the Scheduled Castes (SC) list.

The AAP, which is trying to emerge as an alternative to both major parties, is banking on the “clean” image of its candidates to edge past the BJP and its high-decibel campaign. While the posters in the city are predominantly of the BJP, the AAP finds mention in conversations.

“There is no telling how the AAP will perform in the future, maybe this time too Rajkot may go entirely with the BJP. However, there is a younger lot that is tempted by the new faces,” said a resident, Ramanbhai Ojha.

Delhi chief minister and the AAP’s national convener, Arvind Kejriwal, was in Rajkot in May, accompanied by Gopal Italia, the party president in the state. The turnout at the gathering was impressive, say residents, but there is no telling whether that support will convert into votes.

The AAP’s promises of free units of electricity, corruption-free administration and jobs come up in conversations, but there is little evidence on the ground that these poll promises will put the new entrants in the power corridor.

“We have heard about the mismanagement in Punjab. Delhi is still better because there is Modi ji there, but the lawlessness in Punjab is worrying and people in Rajkot would not want that,” said Manikbhai (uses one name), who runs a shop.

Making use of the word “revri” which has entered the electoral lexicon to denote freebies, Manikbhai said the younger generation is not easily swayed by them.

The AAP’s candidate from Rajkot West, Dinesh Joshi, who switched from the Congress, said the election is a contest between the BJP and the AAP. He dubs his former party as the “Titanic” and says people are looking forth to “clean” governance.

“Congress MLA from Rajkot East, Indranil Rajyaguru, switched over to the AAP. He wanted to spend money and be named the CM candidate, the AAP does not believe in such politics, so he went back. That’s what we are telling people. We will give schools with the best education and excellent health care so that candidates don’t need to spend money on electioneering,” said Joshi.

The Congress candidate from Rajkot West, Mansukhbhai, dismisses the AAP’s assertion that it will be a triangular fight. “People are fed up with the BJP. Why else did they drop a former CM as MLA? There is anger among the youth, there have been frequent paper leaks and there is no policy to generate jobs or tame inflation. And the AAP has no plans either, as Team B of the BJP, they are contesting only to cut into our votes,” he said.

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