With the lull of Diwali and Gujarati New Year over, the political scene is finally hotting up in Gujarat. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced its first list of 84 candidates on Thursday evening, a day after the Congress named 52 nominees for the Assembly elections next month.
Chief Minister Narendra Modi will contest from Maninagar in Ahmedabad city, the constituency from which he has fought the last two Assembly elections. The Congress may field Navnirman leader Umakant Mankad, 62, against Mr. Modi. The popular Navnirman movement had, in the mid-seventies, unseated the then State government over issues of price rise and corruption. Barring a few, the names declared by the BJP on Thursday were those of sitting legislators.
With two days left for filing of nominations, the lists of all parties for the 182-member House will be out soon. Eighty-seven constituencies will go to the polls in the first phase on December 13. The second phase is scheduled for December 17 and the results will be declared on December 20.
The names of the candidates of the former BJP patriarch, Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party were expected on Thursday. The party will contest 181 seats, but has identified 20 constituencies which it says it can win, and thus will focus on those during the campaign, sources said.
Rebel BJP MLA Kanu Kalsaria, who had led a major agitation against detergent giant Nirma in the coastal Saurashtra region and got its proposed cement plant stopped by dragging the Narendra Modi government to the Supreme Court, has launched his own outfit and it will contest five seats. Mr. Kalsaria has held talks with Mr. Patel and the Congress on seat sharing to ensure that anti-BJP votes in Saurashtra are not split. There is also an understanding between the Congress and Mr. Patel that candidates selection should be such that “anti-Modi” votes remain intact.
The Congress played it safe, with 26 of the 52 candidates it announced on Wednesday night being sitting legislators, including Leader of the Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil and PCC president Arjun Modhwadia. Eight of the candidates are former MLAs. The party has also fielded sitting Lok Sabha member Kunwarji Bawalia from Botad. The list has 13 candidates from the Scheduled Tribes and four from the Scheduled Castes, while there are four women and two Muslims in the fray.
However, there were protest demonstrations at the Congress headquarters in Ahmedabad over certain candidates in various regions.
The Congress has left 11 seats to its alliance partner, the Nationalist Congress Party, and will contest 171 seats.
There is a common perception that with the changed demographics of constituencies due to delimitation and Mr. Keshubhai Patel banking greatly on his Patel caste, the elections will be fought on the caste plank.
The Congress’ list reflects the party’s weightage given to the caste of the candidates. Keeping this strategy in mind, the party is trying to convince the former BJP veteran, Shankersinh Vaghela, to contest the elections, though he is reportedly unwilling and would rather devote his energies as the Congress campaign committee chairman.
Mr. Vaghela has a Statewide following among Kshatriyas and the OBCs and the party leaders believe that he could galvanise these castes in favour of the Congress.
Sources said the BJP, too, would give adequate attention to the caste of the candidates, instead of just banking on the development plank and Mr. Modi’s popularity.
Meanwhile, the bad news for the Congress is that the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which are fielding candidates, could cut into its vote. Though the impact would be marginal, given that these parties do not have any network in Gujarat, in an election as close as this even a few votes would count.
In the rival camp, it bodes well for the BJP that the Shiv Sena, which contested a few seats in the 2007 elections, would desist from doing so this time.