Given the discontent among farmers, anger among Patidars and dissatisfaction among tribals, fishing community, salt makers and other marginalised communities, the 98 rural seats of the 182-member Assembly are likely to decide who will rule Gujarat this time.
Though Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah is claiming that his party will bag 150 plus seats, but insiders say that this is the “toughest election” the saffron party has been “fighting in its bastion in the past two decade”.
Winning this crucial election is also not a cakewalk for the Congress. With Patel quota activist Hardik Patel, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and OBC leader Alpesh Thakore siding with the Congress, neutralising caste dynamics has become a cause of concern for the grand old party as the BJP has fielded Congress turncoats at majority of seats.
Following the delimitation in 2008, the total number of rural seats went down to 98 from 115. The rest 84 fell within the boundaries of urban areas, which have traditionally been BJP strongholds. The Congress has generally fared well in rural areas.
The BJP had won 64 of the 115 rural seats in 2007 elections. But this number went down to 50 of the total 98 rural seats in the 2012 assembly polls. In fact, the BJP’s vote share has been decreasing in rural seats for the past three decades. It was at its peak in 2002, when the party bagged 75 out of then 115 rural seats. Vote share of the Congress in rural seats increased to 44% in 2012 from 32% in 2002.
If the Congress wants to rule the state, it will have to do well in urban areas. On the other hand, would need a wave that would help it retain urban citadels while winning more seats from rural areas for winning 150 seats and set a record in Gujarat by breaking 1985 record of Madhavsinh Solanki led Congress.
While Congress has given tickets to several associates of Hardik and Alpesh in many seats, annoying its own workers, bagging of each single seat will be an advantage of the party. However, taking voters into confidence in the urban segments does not appear to be an easy task for the BJP. While the party has to bank on retaining the urban grip, it has no option but to better its tally significantly in the rural areas to achieve its target.
Growing disaffection of farmers over issues of agricultural loans waiver, weakening of the cooperative sectors, price rise, electricity and minimum support price (MSP). The Congress is concentrating its campaign on these issues in rural belts of the state.