Amid brewing Kshatriya discontent, old rivals Rupala, Dhanani to clash in Rajkot

All Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat — barring Surat, where the BJP nominee has won unopposed — go to polls in the third phase on May 7.

May 06, 2024 01:55 am | Updated 02:09 am IST - New Delhi

Union Minister for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying Parshottam Rupala.

Union Minister for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying Parshottam Rupala. | Photo Credit: ANI

Rajkot will witness a clash of old rivals after a gap of 21 years when all Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat — barring Surat, where the BJP nominee has won unopposed — go to polls in the third phase on May 7.

The BJP has fielded Union Minister for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying Parshottam Rupala against Paresh Dhanani of the Congress. Both candidates are native to Amreli district but are new faces in Rajkot. Mr. Dhanani is taking on Mr. Rupala after defeating him by a margin of over two lakh votes from the Amreli seat in the 2002 Assembly poll.

“Since then, Mr. Rupala has somewhat taken a back seat in contesting elections. After his loss, he was appointed the State BJP chief and later nominated as a Rajya Sabha MP,” Mr. Dhanani told The Hindu.

Though the Congress leader lost the Amreli seat in 2007 to the BJP’s Dilip Sanghani, current chairman of IFFCO and former Minister of Agriculture in Gujarat, he contested again against Mr. Sanghani and won in 2012. He went on to retain the seat till 2022. “I have contested the Assembly elections five times, won thrice, and lost twice. I also contested the 2019 Lok Sabha poll and lost to the BJP,” he said.

Paresh Dhanani of the Congress. 

Paresh Dhanani of the Congress.  | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji

Mr. Dhanani, who was appointed the youngest general secretary of the Indian Youth Congress between 2013 and 2017, pointed out that since 1990, the Congress has never come to power in Gujarat and that Rajkot is a stronghold of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Rajkot is dotted with hoardings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Rupala promising rapid development like a swanky new international airport, digital India, access to tap water, a six-lane highway connecting Rajkot to Ahmedabad and beyond, and a new All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

While the BJP is playing the infrastructure development card to woo the business community in Rajkot, Mr. Rupala has irked the Kshatriyas in Gujarat by making allegedly derogatory remarks against the community while interacting with members of the Dalit community recently.

Voter outreach

Since the vote share of the Kshatriyas is limited in the seat, which has 22 lakh voters, their dissent is unlikely to dent the BJP’s prospects. Yet, to avoid defeat, Mr. Rupala has been actively campaigning in the constituency to reach out to communities such as the Brahm Kshatriyas, Darzis, and Mochis.

In a gathering of the Darzi Samaj last month, Mr. Rupala addressed a crowd of 5,000 BJP supporters. After an evening of campaigning, dinner was served to those who attended the meeting. The BJP leader targeted the Congress over skipping the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

According to Mr. Dhanani, the battle this time is not over becoming an MP, but protecting constitutional rights. “There is inflation, slump in trade, and unemployment, but to make people forget these core issues, they [BJP] divide people on religious and caste lines during every election. If common people raise their voice for their rights, then they are threatened, false cases are slapped on them. In a State that gave birth to Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who talked about unity in diversity, today those who have stepped on the Constitution are destroying the country’s unity in diversity with their arrogance of power,” he said.

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