VADODARA: Dabhoi, one of the 36 constituencies of Gujarat where Muslims can influence the results, appears to be a hard nut to crack for the BJP as the social dynamics and tradition of "no repeat" favours the Congress, prompting the saffron party to rake up anti-Muslim fervour in a bid to polarize the voters.
Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Shailesh Mehta alias Sotta Bhai hit the headlines a few days back with communally provocative remarks.
With the support of most voters among Patidars, Muslims and Scheduled Tribes (mostly Vasavas), which forms a winning combination, Congress candidate and former MLA Siddharth Patel looks to be in a good position.
The tradition of "change" in each election since 1962 also favours Patel as BJP's Balkrishnabhai Patel won in 2012. Dabhoi has never elected a party or candidate twice in a row, forcing the BJP to change the nominee.
Siddharth Patel, son of former Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel and head of the Congress campaign panel, won the seat in 2007 and 1998.
Dabhoi constituency, part of Vadodara district and Chhota Udai Pur Lok Sabha constituency, consists of 45,854 Patidar, 22,321 Muslim, 47,040 ST, 44,026 Bakshi Panch (OBCs), 10,413 SC, 9,443 Rajput and 5,642 Brahmin voters.
With the support of Patidars, STs and Muslims, Siddharth Patel has an edge as most STs here are Vasavas. Former JD-U leader and Bharatiya Tribal Party leader Chotubhai Vasava holds a good image among tribals. Vasava has joined hands with Congress.
The BJP here, apart from upper caste votes, is banking on over 44,000 Bakshi Panch votes which comes under OBC category. As the Patidars are angry with the BJP, the ruling party is unlikely to get the major chunk of the community.
Worried by the social dynamics favouring the Congress, Shailesh Sotta, days before the first phase of polls, told an election rally that "those sporting a beard and a topi must not raise their voice and eyes".
Later, addressing an election rally in the presence of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Sotta maintained his stand, saying these "anti-social elements" must be oppressed.
The statements may have given Sotta some prominence but people are not taking him seriously.
Reacting to his remarks, Vinod Bhai Jaiswal, a transporter in Kilanpur village, told IANS: "All these are election gimmicks. Sotta Bhai has said this to polarize voters as he is losing the election. People will give him a befitting reply."
But Kanubhai Darwadi, an OBC, hopes Sotta Bhai wins. "He is a strong candidate as he knows how to win even in odd situations."
Truck owner Nadir Bhai Pathan said: "Siddharth Patel may be an outsider but he is a frequent visitor. He participates in our family functions as well and helps us too when needed."
Rajkumar Vasava and his friends are eager to vote for Siddharth Patel. "The BJP has brought Sotta to beat the anti-incumbancy against the outgoing MLA Balkrishnabhai. This is not going to work," Vasava said.
Retired teacher Rama Bhai Hada said Sotta's remarks were meant to woo Patidars and the tribals who are annoyed with the BJP.
Alkesh Vasava, a barber, said: "None of the leaders come to the area after their victory. I last saw Balkrishnabhai Patel in 2012. How can anyone expect us to vote for him?"
Hada added: "I don't think he (Sotta) will win." He said similar remarks were being made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah as well in areas where the social dynamics don't favour the saffron party.
Dabhoi will vote on December 14 in the second and final phase of the Gujarat election. The first round of voting took place on Saturday.
Jamalpur-Khadia, Vejalpur, Vagra, Wankaner, Dariapur, Bhuj and Abdassa are among 36 seats where Muslim voters can play a key role. In Jamalpur-Khadia, Muslim voters form around 60 per cent while in other seats they comprise 13 to 15 per cent.
In some seats in Bharuch and Kacchh region, Muslim voters range from 20 to 25 per cent.
Political observers feel that while the Congress will benefit more in these seats, voting on communal lines will only help the BJP.