Gujarat is set to witness a close fight between five candidates of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress for four Rajya Sabha seats, on March 26. On March 18, the last day for withdrawing nominations, three dummy candidates of the BJP withdrew their nominations. Three BJP candidates – Abhay Bhardwaj, Ramilaben Bara and Narhari Amin will contest the polls while Congress has fielded party veterans Bharatsinh Solanki and Shaktisinh Gohil.
Noticeably, five Congress MLAs including Somabhai Patel from Limbadi, JV Kakadia from the Dhari constituency, Pravin Maru from Gadhada and Pradhyumansin Jadeja from Abdasa resigned in the last week, thereby diminishing the party’s chances of winning both seats.
After their resignations, the Congress’ tally in the assembly has come down to 68 legislators. While one independent MLA, Jignesh Mevani, has made clear that he will vote for Congress and one NCP MLA has declared he will vote for BJP, the party still needs two more votes to win. They are looking to two MLAs of the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) to swing in their favour.
The two MLAs of BTP are Mahesh Vasava and Chotubhai Vasava. BTP is led by Mahesh Vasava, the son of Chotu Vasava, a seven-time MLA from Jhagadiya constituency in Bharuch.
Chotubhai Vasava has been a thorn in the BJP’s side since his vote was the deciding factor for Congress MP Ahmed Patels victory against the BJP’s candidate in the Rajya Sabha polls of 2017. Seven Congress MLAs had quit the party ahead of the then polls and eight MLAs cross voted.
Vasava was also the lone JD(U) MLA of Gujarat until Nitish Kumar took charge of JD(U). He pledged allegiance to Sharad Pawar and contested elections as part of then newly formed Bharatiya Tribal Party, led by his son, Mahesh.
Noticeably, the BJP’s announcement of its third candidate, Narhari Amin, has led to speculation of cross voting from the Congress. Amin, a strong Patel leader and former deputy CM in Congress regime had been in the party for 25 years before joining the BJP.
In 2012, Amin quit the party after Congress did not give him a ticket for the Assembly elections, in keeping with its decision to not nominate those who have lost two elections in a row. Within a week of quitting Congress, Amin joined the BJP, leading to a horde of resignations by his supporters in the party. Six senior leaders and party functionaries – the then Ahmedabad Congress Chief, then Congress spokesperson, then state party general secretary, Ahmedabad Vice president, farmers cell chairman, teachers cell chairman, 18 municipal councillors and 40 ward presidents, left.
The declaration of Amin’s name has also led to the chances of the two BTP votes and one NCP vote of Kandhal Jadeja swinging in favour of the BJP. Noticeably, in the last Rajya Sabha elections to two seats in July 2019, these three votes had gone in favour of BJP candidates. Two Congress MLAs – Alpesh Thakor and Dhavlsinh Zala had also defected and voted for the BJP.
The grand old party is on shaky ground as Amin is the only Patidar candidate in the fray. According to reports, the Patidar and Koli Patel MLAs of the party had made representation regarding having a candidate from the community but the party chose Gohil and Solanki – both ‘Darbars’ (Kshtraiya) from Saurashtra (Bhavnagar) and Central Gujarat (Anand) respectively.
Meanwhile, Congress candidates and party veterans Shaktisinh Gohil and Bharatsinh Solanki told the media after filing nominations that Amin’s nominations will not affect polling.
“Everyone is aware of BJP’s tactics. In 2017 too they adopted similar tactics but they failed and Ahmed Patel was declared victorious at midnight,” Solanki told the media.
Noticeably, Congress has flown off its candidate to a resort in Jaipur. He is camping amid the allegations of the BJP bribing its MLAs.
GPCC Chief Amit Chavda took to Twitter to allege, “BJP has paid Rs 65 crore to poach Congress MLAs.”
Refuting all allegations Amin said, “BJP has surplus votes to ensure victory of all three of its candidates. Besides, there is immense infighting between Congress’ organisation and its MLAs for the past four or five years. BJP will benefit from the infighting.”
BJP’s other candidates – Abhay Bharadwaj and Ramilaben Bara are both party loyalists. Bharadwaj, a senior advocate has been member of RSS and reportedly shares close ties with PM Narendra Modi. An influential Brahmin leader, he has trained numerous BJP leaders including CM Vijay Rupani. He has also been a part of the Law Commission and part of cases like Tripal Talaq.
Ramilaben Bara, a bureaucrat turned politician and an ex MLA, is a popular face in North Gujarat. Bara, a tribal leader, took voluntary retirement to join BJP when Modi was CM of Gujarat.
The elections were necessitated after terms of four Rajya Sabha members – Chunibhai Gohel, Shambhuprasad Tundiya and Lalsinh Vadodiya of BJP and Madhusudan Mistry of Congress are ending on April 9 this year.