The BJP’s first list of candidates for next month’s Gujarat polls is devoid of any surprises, indicating the party’s confidence on the same of set of leaders many of whom faced public ire during the violent Patidar agitation two years ago.
Chief minister Vijay Rupani leads the list of 70 candidates, of which 49 are sitting legislators, contrary to speculation that the party would drop a significant proportion of them to beat possible anti-incumbency 22 years into its rule in the state.
The list announced on Friday also includes 15 new faces, 16 Patidar leaders, four women and five former Congress legislators, who switched sides during the Rajya Sabha elections in August.
Voting for the state’s 182 seats will be held on December 9 and 14.
Rupani, also the party’s chief ministerial face, and deputy chief minister Niten Patel will contest in their strongholds, Rajkot West and Mehsana respectively. Rupani could face the Congress’s Saurashtra strongman Indranil Rajyaguru, who has been nurturing the Rajkot West seat for over a year.
But the spotlight will be mainly on Patel who was under severe pressure during the height of the Patidar quota agitation led by Hardik Patel.
Patel once faced angry Patidar women beating steel plates with rolling pins and was forced to leave several venues at Mehsana, the epicentre of the agitation.
To his credit, he managed to convince several influential Patidar leaders to sit down and discuss their demands; all the demands, except the OBC quota for Patidars were met.
Similarly, Varachcha sitting MLA Kumar Kanani, who too faced angry protests by Patidars, figures in the list. Since 2015, when the agitation began, the BJP has not been able to hold a single rally in this constituency.
Besides ministers, the BJP has also senior retained MLAs such as Mahendra Mashru and Padubha Manek, who have never been allotted ministerial berths despite winning for a couple of terms.
Five Congress rebels in list
As many as five rebel Congress leaders figure in the BJP’s first list of 70 candidates released on Friday.
Raghavji Patel (Jamnagar Rural), Dharmendra Jadeja (Jamnagar North), CK Raul (Godhra), Ramsinh Parmar (Thasra) and Mansinh Chauhan (Balasinor) were among the 12 Congress legislators who defected to the BJP ahead of the August 8 Rajya Sabha elections. Some of these legislators supported the NDA in the presidential polls as well.
However, Bholabhai Gohel, a former Congress legislator who won the 2012 assembly elections from Jasdan, failed to make it to the BJP’s first list. The ruling party fielded its own nominee Bharatbhai Boghra instead.
The rebellion in Congress was triggered by veteran leader Shankersinh Vaghela who wanted the opposition party to name him the chief ministerial candidate or the state president ahead of the assembly elections.
However, Vaghela and his son Mahendrasinh Vaghela did not join the BJP and later formed a new political front, Jan Vikalp (People’s Alternative), to counter both the ruling party and the Congress.
As a result of the desertions, the contest for one of the three Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat turned bitter and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel’s snatched victory in a nail-biting finish to get re-elected to the Upper House for the fifth time.
The fate of the other six Congress rebels hangs in the balance and it remains to be how many of them will be accommodated by the BJP in the subsequent lists.
By fielding “outsiders” or Congress rebels, the BJP runs the risk of antagonising its leaders who were eyeing the seats and could play spoilsport.
For its part, the Congress is also expected to re-nominate the 43 legislators who voted for Ahmed Patel as a reward for their loyalty.
In the evening, the Congress held its second meeting of the central election committee to discuss the names of its candidates for 112 seats. The party has already finalised its nominees for 70 other seats but not released the list.