For Harshad Patel, the BJP candidate from Sabarmati, the 2022 Assembly election is an education. This is despite the fact that he has been election agent to Union Home Minister Amit Shah from 1998 onwards, when the latter used to contest from the Sarkhej Assembly seat.
“As someone who is part of a team working behind the scenes, what I say goes, as far as my party workers are concerned, even if they don’t agree with me. As a candidate, I am answerable to the people, who are under no obligation to hear me out,” said Mr. Patel, speaking at his election office in the city.
Mr. Shah, who campaigned for Mr. Patel this time around, said at a public rally, “Harshad helped me get elected all these years, now you all [voters] must help elect him.”
For Mr. Patel, proximity to senior leaders — he worked on former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s election from Gandhinagar in 1998 as well — has not always meant getting what he wants.
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“I had asked for a ticket during the last elections [in 2017] also, Amit bhai [that is, Home Minister Amit Shah] was party president. He said he would try, but when the parliamentary board decided to repeat all 45 MLAs in the area, I knew that wasn’t going to happen,” he said. Mr. Shah, he said, sent across BJP leaders Tarun Chugh and Anil Jain to break the news to his old comrade-in-arms. “I understood that the party had its reasons,” he said, alluding to the hardscrabble fight that was the 2017 Gujarat Assembly polls.
This time round, he got the ticket for the Sabarmati seat, considered safe for the BJP. From his long innings as a behind-the-scenes man for Mr. Shah, he says one thing stands out for him, apart from the meticulous and immersive preparations. “The party has seen a lot of expansion in the last few years, and Amit bhai always said that that should not be the reason for you to change how you do things, and how you are,” he said.
Mr. Shah’s previous seat of Sarkhej was one of the biggest Assembly constituencies in the country before it was split. Mr. Patel said the experience of handling 1,074 polling booths in Sarkhej catering to 11 lakh voters was his training ground. This year, apart from his own seat, he is also overseeing the task of whipping the vote out for at least eight out of the 20 Assembly constituencies in Ahmedabad. “It shouldn’t be that since everyone feels the BJP is winning, the voter takes it easy and doesn’t turn up on polling day,” he said.
The one thing he disapproves of strongly is the NOTA or None of the Above alternative. “The voter must choose positively between candidates, NOTA is an entirely negative choice,” he said. For a behind-the-scenes man, the 2022 Assembly polls have brought him into the spotlight, and a chance to be a contender.