(This article is published in Organiser magazine 12-11-17 issue)
Finally election commission set ball rolling on last 25th October. Gujarat is going to have elections in two phases. First phase on 9th December will see Saurashtra, Kutch and South Gujarat voting on 89 seats. It will cover 19 out of 33 districts. Second phase on 14th December will be for North Gujarat and Central Gujarat voting on 93 seats in remaining 14 districts. Results will be out on 18th December 2017.
While it was seen one sided game till Rajya Sabha elections. Congress was facing revolt by its opposition leader in assembly, Shankarsinh Vaghela. His supporters were demanding to declare him CM candidate. Shankarsinhjee was also demanding to declare candidates early so that they could get enough time for campaigning. He sought to implement report prepared by ex defense minister A. K. Antony on wake of debacle in Lok Sabha elections. Posters war began in Congress. Some posters were saying: Bapu aave chhe. (Shankarsinh Vaghela a.k.a. Bapu will be next CM) Some were saying: Bharatsinh Solanki aave chhe. But Congress high command didn’t succumb to Shankarsinh Vaghela group’s demand. And after one meeting of his supporters on 24th June, Shankarsinhjee announced he would quit congress on his birthday 21st July.
Congress mlas who were seemed to be Shankarsinhjee supporter began to defect one by one. 14 mlas resigned from Congress before rajyasabha elections. BJP gave Balwantsinh Rajput, congress mla who defected to BJP ticket of Rajya sabha. He was seen candidate against Congress stalwart Ahmed Patel. Suddenly Congress woke up and hijacked their mlas to Bengaluru five star resort. Agnet of Ahmed Patel and veteran Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil allegedly played tactics in which Shankarsinh Vaghela group mla Raghavjee Patel and Bholabhai Gohil got trapped. Their two votes were cancelled after a long suspense that continued till mid night involving election commission at Delhi and Gandhinagar. And finally result was out with Ahmed Patel victory by just half vote which is challenged in court by Balwantsinh Rajput.
This victory has boosted up Congress moral. North Gujarat was facing flood and heavy rain. While Gujarat CM Vijaybhai Rupani and health minister Shankarbhai Chaudhary were in North Gujarat for five days to help flood victims, while Congress’s 44 mlas were enjoying in Bengaluru hi fi resort. Even though, after victory ‘Vikas Gando thayo chhe’ (Development has gone mad) messages got circulated and anti BJP campaign was peaking up. Rise in Petrol-Diesel prices, loan for Bullet train, very poor condition of roads, GST were being opposed and many people also joined in this campaign allegedly run by Congress I.T. Cell.
Even though, roads are subject of municipalities (which are BJP controlled), BJP national president Amitbhai Shah had to promise roads would be fine till October which showed Congress campaign success. Picture was good for Congress till 21st October. But it has started changing from the same day. On this day, Alpesh Thakor, who agitated for OBC and SC-ST went to meet Rahul Gandhi at Delhi and declared he would join Congress. Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani also declared he would support Congress. Hardik Patel also gave indications of supporting Congress on same day.
Thus it was clear that all three agitations were supporting Congress. Hardik Patel who fought for reservation to Patel community in OBC quota suddenly changed his stand and publically told: “No problem, if Congress doesn’t give reservation to Patel, but we will see BJP would not come to power.” He also talked he was ready to see any Dalit or Muslim leader becoming CM but BJP mustn’t come to power.
Similarly, Alpesh Thakor fought for strict implementation of liquor prohibition. But Mohansinh Rathva who became opposition leader in assembly after Shankarsinh Vaghela quit Congress appealed thakor community members to drink liquor if offered by BJP and vote to Congress. It was in presence of Rahul Gandhi and Alpesh Thakor! It was clearly violation of law. Alpesh Thakor didn’t oppose this at that time and even after that rally.
Media showed Hardik Patel secretly meeting allegedly Rahul Gandhi and coming out with begs. BJP alleged that Hardik Patel had secret deal with Congress. Two big PAAS (Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti) leader Varun Patel and Reshma Patel also changed their hearts and joined BJP!
After this sudden change, it seems these agitation have divided Patel and OBC community, specifically Patel community. Before agitation there were two sub castes- Leuva and Kadva. But after Hardik Patel support to Congress, it seems there are two more divisions- PAAS (Pro PAAS) and NaaPAAS (Naapaas means failed but in this case it is anti PASS). Opposition to Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor by their respective communities show that wise members have realized that these leaders, be it Hardik, Varun, Reshma, Alpesh or Jignesh have befooled them on name of communities.
Allegations by Narendra Patel, PAAS leader that BJP tried to buy him with one crore rupee and after then one audio clip telecasted by media heard Narendra Patel speaking to unknown person about entry of Rs. 25 lakh in his name though he didn’t receive any money. He was telling that Rs25 lakh was described in a diary as a part of the grant received by Mehsana District Panchayat, which was given to PAAS Committee of Mehsana and North Gujarat. He quoted one Pahlaj bhai who told him that he had given the money to three people on receiving a call from the State Congress. Patel was even heard saying that he would speak with state Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki and ask him about who was given the money. Later in the clip, Patel said that he received a call from Patel reservation stir leader Hardik Patel, who asked him not to talk about the matter to anyone, and also asked him not to make an issue of the same.
These events have created bad image for agitators and Congress. Congress is again alleged to play same caste politics. In 1980s, Congress leader Madhavsinh Solanki played KHAM (Kshatriy, Harijan i.e. dalit, Adivasi i.e. tribal and muslim) theory successfully. This time Congress is applying POD theory where P stands for Patidar, O for OBC and D for Dalit.
Chinks In Congress
But taking support of these three young leaders will not be easy task for Congress. After Alpesh Thakor joined Congress, it is said that Congress had to rethink for candidate on 60-70 seats. It was said that Alpesh had a meeting with BJP president Amitbhai Shah where he demanded deputy CM post for his father and 16-18 seats but Amitbhai rejected his offer. So it is clear if Alpesh has joined Congress, Congress must have accepted his demands. And it will create dissatisfaction among Congress leaders. Congress is known for factionalism at times of election and it is one big reason behind its successive four defeats. Two suspected ISIS terrorists were arrested from Surat. BJP alleged that one of the terrorist, Kasim Stimberwala was working as laboratory technician at Sardar Hospital In Ankleshwar. Ahmed Patel was trustee in this hospital. BJP demanding Ahmedbhai’s resignation.
On other hand BJP is also highlighting development work done at center in leadership of PM Narendra Modi and at Gujarat in leadership of ex CM Anandiben Patel and current CM Vijaybhai Rupani. This includes completion of Narmada yojana, Sauni Yojana, Mukhyamantri Yuva Svavalamban Yojana, electricity, irrigation, actions in favour of farmers and tribals, better road connectivity, R0-Ro ferry service between Ghogha-Dahej, bullet train etc.
Election rallies have just started. Model code of conduct is in force since 25th. Rallies may change whole campaign. Congress is raising same issues like past four elections- i.e. unemployment, poor education facilities, injustice to farmers-dalits-tribals-women, undue favour to 4-5 industrialists. However Rahul Gandhi is adopting new strategy. In past, he/Sonia Gandhi used to come, address rally and then leave. Now Rahul is staying here for three days. He is travelling to villages, talking to farmers, tribals, women, youths. He has accepted he is not good speaker as Narendra Modi is. So he has adopted this strategy.
As this article is being written, Rahul has arrived in south Gujarat. He has visited Saurashtra region and central Gujarat. Narendra Modi has been visiting Gujarat since last one year. He has been here for all development work inauguration or commencement.