AHMEDABAD: Riding a Modi wave, the Bharatiya Janata Party swept the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat in the 2014 election. Five years later, with much water having flown down the Sabarmati, the biggest challenge for the ruling party now is to match its 2014 performance.
In 2017, the Congress put up its best performance of the last three decades, clinching 77 seats. An analysis of the 2017 voting pattern reveals that the Congress polled more votes – between 14,000 and 1.68 lakh – than the BJP in eight Lok Sabha seats, namely Banaskantha, Patan, Mehsana, Sabarkantha, Surendranagar, Junagadh, Amreli and Anand.
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Simply put, the votes polled by Congress candidates in assembly segments that make up these eight Lok Sabha seats is higher than the votes polled by the BJP.
These eight seats include Patan, where Congress-backed independent Jignesh Mevani contested from the Vadgam assembly segment. A traditional Congress bastion, Mevani won easily as the grand old party did not field a candidate here.
In Porbandar, where the NCP’s Kandhal Jadeja was elected from the Kutiyana assembly seat, the equation changes if there is an alliance between the Congress and NCP. The Congress candidate had polled around 11,000 votes against Jadeja. If the NCP’s votes are added to the Congress tally, Porbandar becomes the ninth Lok Sabha seat where the BJP is trailing, according to the 2017 voting data.
Evidently, the BJP faces a challenge in Saurashtra and North Gujarat, as seven of these eight seats are in these regions.
Of the eight seats where the Congress is leading according to the 2017 election data, the BJP has only renominated two MPs, Naran Kachadiya in Amreli and Deepsinh Rathod in Sabarkantha. The party is yet to name its candidates for five seats, while it has already named a fresh candidate in Surendranagar, where Dr Mahendra Mujpara was preferred for the BJP ticket over the sitting MP, Devji Fatepara.
The BJP seems have done some introspection and has set rolling a plan to reverse the damage. Months after their rout in Saurashtra, the BJP pulled off a coup by winning over senior Congress leader and OBC strongman Kunvarji Bavaliya. The party made him cabinet minister, swearing him in within four hours of him joining the party.
His induction has given an impetus to BJP’s ‘Mission Kamalam’ to dismantle the Congress by luring its MLAs into the saffron party.
Facing disgruntlement and a spate of defections — three Congress MLAs joined the BJP recently with at least half a dozen more pegged to switch shortly — the Congress is staring at an uphill task to consolidate or even preserve the gains it made in 2017.
The BJP’s strategy is simple — poach Congress MLAs and leaders where the BJP is not on a strong footing. The rationale for winning over senior Congress MLA Jawahar Chavda was that he belongs to the Ahir community, which has sizable numbers in four LS seats of Saurashtra where the BJP is considered weak.
The party has been trying to woo young OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, who can influence the Thakor community, which dominates the electorate on four seats in north Gujarat, where the BJP is weak. Thakor finally made it clear that he is not the quitting Congress.
Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani says the general election and assembly elections can’t be compared as they are contested on different issues. "The people of Gujarat will vote for the magnetic leadership of Narendra Modi due to the performance of the Union government," he said.
Like in the past, the BJP will rely heavily on PM Modi’s charisma during campaigning. The party said that a narrative will be built around development and the air strikes India carried out after the Pulwama terror attack with the tagline – "Gujarati Modi for PM again" or simply put "NaMo Again".
Meanwhile, veteran Congressman and party treasurer Ahmed Patel has been entrusted with the responsibility of working out a strategy for the party to hold on to the gains it made in the 2017 assembly elections. State unit chief Amit Chavda is crying foul about the BJP poaching its MLAs and leaders, but maintains in the same breath that the Congress will do well in the state in 2019.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi presiding over two events of the Patidar community, on March 4 and 5, where more than five lakh Patidars were in attendance, the BJP hopes the disgruntlement of the 2015 Patidar agitation has been diluted. The central government legislation granting an additional 10% quota to people from upper castes has also taken the sting out of the Patidar stir. BJP leaders are confident that with the much publicized PM Kisan Sanman Yojana, the resentment among farmers has reduced to a great extent.