Bharuch braces for a Vasava vs Vasava contest as first-time MLA is pitted against six-time MP

As part of the alliance between Congress and AAP, two Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat – Bharuch and Bhavnagar – have been given to the latter while the principal Opposition party will contest on the remaining 24 seats

Updated - March 05, 2024 07:08 am IST

Published - March 05, 2024 02:06 am IST - AHMEDABAD

BJP candidate Mansukhbhai Vasava with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

BJP candidate Mansukhbhai Vasava with Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Photo Credit: PTI

Among Gujarat’s 26 Lok Sabha seats, Bharuch is likely to witness one of the most absorbing contests this time. The South Gujarat constituency, unique in being represented by a tribal leader since 1989 despite the seat being a non-reserved one, will have the State’s most senior parliamentarian from the Vajpayee-Advani era crossing swords with a first-time MLA: sitting BJP MP Mansukhbhai D. Vasava and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Chaitar Vasava.

Once a pocket borough of the late Congress leader Ahmed Patel, who had won the seat thrice in a row from 1977 to 1984, the BJP has had a vice-like grip over Bharuch since it won for the first time in 1989, with Mr. Mansukh Vasava representing it since 1998.

As part of the alliance between Congress and AAP, two Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat – Bharuch and Bhavnagar – have been given to the latter while the principal Opposition party will contest on the remaining 24 seats. AAP picked Mr. Chaitar Vasava, its 37-year-old tribal face who enjoys strong popularity in the region after winning the Dediapada Assembly seat in December 2022, for Bharuch. His candidature was announced as early as January by Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal when the MLA was in jail in a case related to an alleged assault on a government employee.

The South Gujarat constituency has a large concentration of tribal and Muslim voters, with both communities making up around 7.5 lakh voters in this seat that houses some of the largest industrial estates such as Ankleshwar and Dahej, Gujarat’s lifeline Narmada dam, and tribal pockets such as Dediapada, Jhagadia and Nandod.

Mr. Chaitar Vasava, once a protege of another tribal veteran from the region, Chhotubhai Vasava, helped AAP gain a large chunk of tribal votes from the Congress in the 2022 Assembly polls as he went on to defeat Mahesh Vasava, his mentor’s son and then incumbent MLA from their own political outfit Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP). In fact, Congress was the first choice of Mr. Chaitar Vasava but comments by party leaders about an alliance with BTP prompted him to join AAP ahead of the Assembly poll.

AAP has stood firmly behind Mr. Chaitar Vasava since his induction into the party. After meeting him and his wife Shakuntala in jail, Mr. Kejriwal had told a gathering in Bharuch that “Chaitar Vasava and his wife have been arrested by the BJP government of Gujarat in a fake case”. The AAP national convener went on to laud his MLA for fighting for his people’s water, forests, land, schools, and hospitals. “There is anger against the BJP government in the entire tribal community regarding his arrest,” he had said.

By announcing him as the AAP candidate from Bharuch, Mr. Kejriwal had sought to strengthen his party’s grip over the tribal votes in this seat.

Now out on bail, Mr. Chaitar Vasava has been criss-crossing the area addressing small public gatherings, playing the martyr and painting both BJP and Congress as “anti-tribal” parties. He softened his stance against the Congress after AAP’s alliance with the party was announced and has been trying to make inroads in Muslim-dominated pockets as well.

Heartburn for Congress

The Congress ceding the seat to AAP caused much heartburn among local leaders, particularly Mumtaz Patel and Faizal Patel, daughter and son of Ahmed Patel. Leaders in the Bharuch unit led by former district Congress chief Parimalsinh Rana and party candidate from the seat in the 2019 election Sherkhan Pathan demanded that the decision be reconsidered. Both of Ahmed Patel’s children also expressed their disappointment but later accepted the party central leadership’s decision.

Mr. Chaitar Vasava’s candidature is understood to have prompted the BJP, which was reportedly in a mood to replace Mr. Mansukh Vasava, to stick with him despite his mercurial attitude and outspoken nature.

The Bharuch MP has often been critical of the State government and administration for their “lack of interest in resolving the issues of tribals in the region”.

In 2020, he had even resigned as an MP and posted his resignation letter on social media after being reportedly upset over the inclusion of around 121 villages in Narmada district in the “eco-sensitive zone”. After a meeting with then CM Vijay Rupani, he withdrew his resignation and claimed not to have any dispute with either the State or central leadership.

However, Mr. Mansukh Vasava continues to be critical of the local administration on occasion – in April last year, for instance, he threatened to sit on a fast over “illegal sand mining” in the Narmada.

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