As Gujarat votes in the first phase of Assembly elections on Thursday, all eyes will be on the former Chief Minister, Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party, which seems poised to spoil the BJP’s party in the crucial Saurashtra region that accounts for 48 of the 87 seats going to the polls in phase-I.
Along with the Congress, Mr. Patel, a founding father of the Jan Sangh and the RSS in Gujarat, has pulled out all the stops to queer the pitch for his parent party that had sacked him to make Narendra Modi Chief Minister.
It is the Saurashtra region, to which Mr. Patel belongs, that will decide the fate of the Modi Government. The BJP won 38 of the 52 seats in the region during the 2007 elections. After delimitation, the number of seats in Saurashtra has decreased to 48.
In 2007, the fight was between an invincible BJP and a divided Congress. The issue was the same as now of development and the clean image of Mr. Modi. But this time it promises to be a three-cornered battle. Analysts predict that Mr. Keshubhai’s party will take away 50-60 per cent of the BJP votes. Mr. Modi’s clean image has already taken a beating with his key Ministers Dilip Sanghani and Parshottam Solanki facing serious charges.
The claim of development flies in the face of suicides by at least 32 farmers having been reported earlier this year following a poor monsoon, as also the pathetic condition of roads in many areas in the region as well as erratic power and water supply.
BJP insiders admit the party is unable to see itself getting anything more than 25 seats in Saurashtra. During the campaign, Mr. Modi, for the first time, was reduced to reacting to the Congress’ claims and allegations in sharp contrast to what he did in the previous two elections. In 2007, he famously said, “Congress follows me wherever I go. They have nothing of their own to say.” Now, he was unable to say so.
As for the GPP, Mr. Modi carefully avoided making any comments against it.
What counts in the region this time is caste dynamics. It is the Leuva Patels — the community that Keshubhai belongs to — who can influence results in 17 constituencies and build or destroy the prospects of the ruling party. Mr. Patel made huge efforts to pamper this community and it seems he has succeeded.
Another key community are the Koli Patels, who are clubbed with the Other Backward Classes. Here, the tainted Minister of State for Fisheries Parshottam Solanki, a Koli Patel, is faced with a strong community leader and Congress MP Kunvarji Bavalia, who enjoys a clean image and is popular.
Bavalia in Botad may influence votes in other areas of Bhavnagar, a stronghold of Mr. Solanki.