The region can make or mar the fortunes of many a bigwig
The Saurashtra region is to the Gujarat Assembly what Uttar Pradesh is to the Lok Sabha, not only because it sends the most number of lawmakers to the respective House but also due to the fact that it too can make or mar the fortunes of many a political veteran.
Never did this fact look as striking as it does now when caste dynamics and regional satraps — though not on the scale of Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh and Bahujan Samaj Party’s chief Mayawati — from Saurashtra are bracing to influence the outcome of the State elections next month.
The region, known for its diverse demographics influenced both by caste forces and economics like Uttar Pradesh, accounts for 52 of the total 182 seats or some 28 per cent.
The key reason why Saurashtra will be watched even much more this time is because the former Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) patriarch Keshubhai Patel, who belongs to this region and is a Patel, is making a valiant bid to grab the attention of his community that makes up 14 per cent of the voters.
Though many believe that there is no stopping Chief Minister Narendra Modi from walking away with a hat-trick after the BJP victories in Gujarat in 2002 and 2007 under his leadership, it will not be a cakewalk. Experts point out that 2007 was not as easy as 2002 when the BJP’s tally came down to 117 in the backdrop of Mr. Modi’s development agenda compared to 127 seats preceded by a communal conflagration.
Saurashtra was expected to dent the ruling party’s prospects in the previous elections but Mr. Modi managed to check the damage. The countdown to the elections then saw a virtual rebellion against Mr. Modi’s ‘authoritative’ way of functioning. This resulted in the slighting of party veterans such as Mr. Patel, former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta, former Union Textiles Minister Kashiram Rana and another former Union Minister Vallabh Kathiria.
The anger against Mr. Modi saw some leaving the party to contest as Independents with Congress support, while others stayed away from the campaign. Things could have been nastier for Mr. Modi had Mr. Patel openly led the rebellion.
In spite of predictions to the contrary, the BJP managed to retain its hold in the region and increased it by one seat, while the Congress was down to 13.
This time, things indeed look different with Mr. Patel not only leading from the front and announcing that he would contest the elections, but also talking tough against Mr. Modi.
Before he quit the BJP to form his Gujarat Parivartan Party, which was on Saturday granted a cricket bat as the election symbol, Mr. Patel addressed a series of community meetings that generated impressive response. He spoke of injustice being meted out to the Patels and asked them to throw out the Modi regime.
The regional outfit was created by the former Home Minister during Mr. Modi’s 2002 regime, Gordhan Jhadaphia, who owes his political existence to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its head Pravin Toghadia — both are Patels and both are bitter enemies of Mr. Modi.
This party’s election symbol has revived among political circles memories of Mr. Modi’s famous quote, “I am here to play a one-day match,” when he ousted Mr. Patel to taste power in Gujarat on October 7, 2001 — four months ahead of the infamous Godhra train attack and the communal bloodbath later.
Revenge is the word
Another rallying point for Mr. Patel is the backing of the Sangh Parivar organs in the State, which have been almost split into half. His strategy obviously is to try and fetch some seats and simultaneously be a major party spoiler for Mr. Modi. He is not doing this for his victory, but for Mr. Modi’s defeat. Revenge is the word.
*This article has been corrected for a factual error