AHMEDABAD: With the clock ticking for the high-stakes Gujarat assembly elections, the Congress is attempting to breach the BJP’s traditional “fortress” — the Mandvi seat in Kutch district — by wooing a cross-section of voters.
Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil, the 57-year-old Rajput leader, considered by many as the party’s chief ministerial choice, would lock horns with BJP’s new face Virendrasinh Jadeja, who is also a Rajput, in the Muslim-dominated Mandvi assembly constituency.
In an apparent bid to avoid anti-incumbency, the BJP, which has maintained its winning streak on the seat for the last four decades, barring a few occasions, has dropped its legislator Tarachand Chheda and given ticket to Mr Jadeja, the 51-year-old local leader who had unsuccessfully contested from Rapar seat of Kutch in 2007.
Mr Gohil is a legislator from Abdasa seat of Kutch, but the Congress has decided to field him from Mandvi this time.
After losing in the 2012 assembly polls from his traditional seat — Bhavnagar-Rural – Mr Gohil won the Abdasa by-poll in 2014 with a thin margin of over 750 votes.
While Mr Jadeja has never won any assembly poll, Mr Gohil, who belongs to the royal family of Bhavnagar, is a four-time legislator and has served as a minister in past Congress governments.
However, Mr Jadeja is confident of retaining the BJP’s stronghold with the support of all communities, including those who are considered to be the Congress’s loyal vote bank — such as Muslims, Dalits, and to some extent the Patidars.
The Mandvi seat, having a total voter base of 2.24 lakh, comprises two talukas of Kutch — Mandvi and Mundra.
Out of the 2.24 lakh voters, Muslims are in a dominating position with over 50,000 voter population, followed by 31,000 Dalits, 25,000 Patidars and 21,000 Rajputs.
Though it appears to be a lucrative social dynamics for the Congress, the party won from the seat only four times while the BJP emerged victorious seven times since 1960.
Former BJP chief minister Suresh Mehta won from the seat five times, starting from 1975 till 1998. In 1975, Mr Mehta won for the first time under the banner of Jan Sangh.
In 2002, Congress candidate Chhabil Patel snatched the seat from BJP by defeating Mr Mehta with a thin margin of 598 votes. However, the Congress lost the seat to BJP in the elections of 2007 and 2012.
Though the Congress might be hoping to sail through by riding on the back of Muslims, Dalits and Patidars, the BJP is confident of retaining the seat with its “vikas” (development) agenda.
“All these communities were also there when we won in the past. Why did they not vote for Congress at that time?” Mr Jadeja said. “I recently addressed a function where at least 4,000 Muslims pledged support to me. This has been a BJP fortress since the time of Jan Sangh and it will remain with us,” he said.
“Above all, our legislator Tarachand Chheda and the BJP government have carried out developmental projects worth Rs. 1,100 crore in this region during the last five years. Even Narmada canal is being built. We are having support of all the communities,” he told PTI.
On the other side, Mr Gohil, who is the national spokesperson of the All India Congress Committee , said he is receiving “great” response from the people. “Till today, the work of Narmada canal till Mandvi has not been completed. After water, the biggest problem here is unemployment, and the BJP only made hollow promises all these years,” he said. “I am receiving immense support from the locals,” Mr Gohil added.