Gujarat polls: BJP faces resentment over nominations of Congress turncoats

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As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seeks to retain power in Gujarat for the seventh successive time, it faces resentment over nominations of Congress turncoats, which has prompted over a dozen rebels to contest as independents. Congress has fielded from Dhangadhra Surendranagar district panchayat member Chattrasinh Gunjaria, one of the 18 rebels suspended from the BJP for rebelling over denial of tickets.

Former lawmakers Harshad Vasava and Arvind Ladani are contesting as independents from Nandod and Keshod. They are among seven BJP suspended rebels in the fray for the first phase of elections on December 1. Twelve suspended BJP rebels, including lawmaker Madhu Shrivastav (Waghodia), are contesting an independent candidates in the second phase of elections on December 5. Srivastava has represented Waghodia six times since 1995, when he won as an independent.

The BJP is worried the rebels could eat into its votes, which could be crucial in the event of a triangular contest involving Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as well. The rebels could be a source of trouble for the BJP in the constituencies where the victory margin was lower in the 2017 assembly polls.

A BJP leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said senior leaders tried to reach out to the rebels to convince them but they have been adamant.

The BJP denied tickets to 42 lawmakers. Former chief minister Vijay Rupani, former deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, ministers Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and Saurabh Patel opted out of the elections.

In 2017, the BJP managed to get 99 out of 182 seats, its worst performance over its 27-year rule. It has given tickets to 17 lawmakers, who have defected from the Congress since March 2017.

The BJP leader cited above said there is lack of enthusiasm in party workers at some places and they are working half-heartedly. “They feel they have to work for leaders who they were once opposed to. Also, the new leaders will take time to inspire the cadres. The only reason why they are still around is their love for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

The lack of enthusiasm poses a challenge for the BJP in ensuring its core voters vote. The party does not see much resentment unlike in 2017 when farmers issues, demonetisation, joblessness and Patidar agitation for reservation in jobs and educational institutes were blamed for BJP’s dip in seats.

The state recorded a 70% voter turnout in 2017 as communities like the Patidars, once a main vote-bank for the BJP, voted in large numbers against the BJP. This party expects a low voter turnout, which could help it increase its tally.

The BJP removed chief minister Rupani and his entire Cabinet to tackle anti-incumbency. Modi is leading the party’s campaign and has frequented Gujarat, where he was the chief minister until 2014.

The BJP is banking on Modi’s popularity while Congress is hoping to do well in Saurashtra and the tribal belt.

Gujarat’s urban and semi-urban areas have been the BJP’s stronghold. The AAP is trying to make inroads there. Of 182 assembly seats, 84 are either semi urban or urban while 98 are rural. In 2017, the BJP won 64 out of 84 seats in urban Gujarat. It could bag 35 out of 98 assembly seats in rural Gujarat.

The AAP has pledged free electricity, healthcare and education as well as monthly stipend to unemployed and women.



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