Anandiben image at the centre of Gujarat by-elections
BY RK MISRA
What is so great about predicting a poll outcome when a landslide follows a ram battering. And yet the forthcoming by-elections to one Lok Sabha and 9 Vidhan Sabha seats due in Gujarat on September 13 acquires importance, both in national and state politics.
Gujarat is important today in the national political format because it is the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. More so because Modi clobbered the Congress out of shape in three successive Vidhan Sabha elections in Gujarat and then broomed it off the national political shelf to usher in the first BJP majority government in history.
Thus having hit rock bottom, the Congress has little to lose except it’s modesty in the coming by-elections. Paradoxically, the ruling BJP has quite a bit that hangs in the balance though it sits pretty comfortably poised in the ensuing elections.
While the outcome of the by-elections in Gujarat will not materially alter the situation in any manner, this will be the first major Vidhan Sabha engagement between the two traditional political rivals after Anandiben Patel took over as Chief Minister, and hence it’s importance.
While the list of candidates announced by both sides carries hardly any personality to make one sit up and look, there yet is a fair amount of speculation on the outcome.
The bulk of the seats fell vacant as the BJP had fielded 9 sitting legislators including Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the Lok Sabha elections. All the nine won as the BJP swept all the 26 Lok Sabha seats from Gujarat leaving the Congress totally bankrupt of a representation. Modi who had contested the Lok Sabha polls, both from Vadodara and Banaras vacated the former seat causing a Lok Sabha by-elections. Ranjanben Bhatt, the deputy mayor of the Vadodara municipal corporation shall replace Modi as the BJP candidate for the solitary Lok Sabha seat. She will face Narendra Ravat, the president of the city congress. Ravat had initially been selected through the primaries as the party nominee but was replaced by Madhusudan Mistry, Congress general secretary, after Modi decided to contest from Vadodara. Modi trounced Mistry by a record margin of 5,70,000 votes in the 2014 General elections.
Though there are no big names in the fray from both sides, the Congress has a line up of top names who suffered humiliating defeats in the 2014 general elections. These included union ministers Dinsha Patel, Bharat Solanki son of former Chief Minister Madhavsinh Solanki and Tushar Chaudary son of former Chief Minister Amarsinh Chaudhary. Though none of the high profile names have found place, the fact is that most of the key leaders including some of them have been given overall charge of the poll bound constituencies to ensure the victory of the party candidates. Thus these contests have become prestige issues for Congress leader who have just undergone humiliating reverses. A repeat loss of their command areas is likely to go majorly against them in future references. The seats due for by-elections are Tankara, Khambhaliya, Mangrol and Talaja in Saurashtra region. Anand, Matar and Limkheda in central Gujarat, Deesa in north Gujarat and Modi’s Assembly constituency of Maninagar in Ahmedabad.The BJP holds 117 seats in the 182 member Gujarat Assembly with the Congress accounting for 54, Sharad Pawar’s NCP two seats and nine seats vacant. The fight for the solitary Lok Sabha seat of Vadodara has already been complicated with NCP making known it’s resolve to contest the seat.
Faced with a series of defeats at the hands of the BJP under the leadership of Modi in Gujarat over the last decade, another reverse will not make much of a difference for the Congress though the latest by-election results streaming in from other parts of the country seems to have revived a bit of their sagging spirits.
However a decisive victory in the coming elections in a must for Chief Minister Anandiben Patel who has still to prove that she is a worthy successor to Modi who had turned winning elections for the BJP into a habit in Gujarat be it panchayat, municipal corporations, Assembly or Lok Sabha. Patel who has Modi’s backing is under scrutiny, more inside her own party than outside and therefore the need for a win in these by-polls to consolidate her hold though she made a good beginning by wresting the Junagadh municipal corporation from the Congress for her party in the just concluded elections. Aware of the stakes, the Chief Minister is leaving nothing to chance and has unleashed a full scale assault. The entire ministerial clan is burning midnight oil with the party set up also pitching in. Modi still remains the main figurehead for the BJP and has been involved in the final selection of party candidates. For all practical purposes, it is Modi versus the Congress in these by-elections despite the fact that the ruling party sits pretty comfortably poised.