RAJKOT/AHMEDABAD: The 2017 assembly elections was a shocker for the BJP when it barely managed to cross the finishing line with a tally that fell below the 100-mark. But having sat over multiple deliberations, which had started soon after the poor show, the BJP, which has been in the state for the last 27 years, is looking at overcoming the poll hurdle satisfactorily, and in fact, is hopeful to come back with better numbers.
With the Patidars by and large on its side, the most winnable candidates from across the state, and large numbers from the Congress joining the party, the BJP is hopeful for a good comeback in 2022. Even the monsoon has been favourable and the good rainfall has washed away the complaints of the agrarian community which managed a good harvest of both cotton and groundnut and got handsome returns for their efforts.
The preparation of course had begun immediately after the 2017 results and not much was left in the hand of the leaders at the state level. In fact, the entire state cabinet was made to resign en masse mid-term to send across a clear message of “no place for the corrupt and non-performers” to the masses.
The contentious issue of Patidar reservation - that wreaked havoc in the Saurashtra region in terms of seat loss - is a thing of the past. The BJP is all set to gain at least 12 seats in the region. “The party has been able to engage back with the people who were misguided and a rift was created in the name of the caste through sponsored efforts,” says Manish Sharma (president, the Travel Agent Federation of India), who is an active BJP member responsible for facilitating the movement of party leaders on the poll campaign.
Besides fielding Hardik Patel, the mascot of Patidar agitation, from Viramgam, BJP has fielded Ramesh Tilara, from Rajkot (South) associated with the Shree Khodal Dham Temple Trust (SKTT), the apex religious body of the Leuva community of the Patidars, which is quite influential in Saurashtra. A three-time MLA from BJP was dropped to accommodate Tilara.
The party has put in extra effort to engage with people, especially in the Saurashtra region, and field candidates who are close to the masses, Sharma said, adding that “the candidate from Morbi, Kanti Amrutiya, was the first man to jump into the river to save lives soon after the bridge collapse.”
The BJP has also been focussing strongly on its choice of candidates and was not hesitant to pick winnable candidates from the Congress. “The Congress last time by doing nothing managed to bag 77 seats, but in the absence of strong state leadership and a connect with people, the winning candidates also felt left out,” asserts Divyesh Dabhi, a service sector entrepreneur based out of Rajkot.
Since 2017, at least 20 Congress legislators have joined the BJP with three defecting in November this year, just before the elections. The BJP has been clear with its strategy to field able turncoats to the extent that just before the announcement of the candidate list, senior state party leaders including former ex-CM Vijay Rupani, ex-deputy CM Nitin Patel, ex-home minister Pradipsinh Jadeja, energy minister Saurabh Dalal, and education minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, sent a letter requesting that they should be excluded from contesting.
Meanwhile, the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has definitely added suspense to the election season. The party made its mark in the municipal elections of Surat, bagging 27 of the 120 seats. “They would definitely make a difference in Saurashtra and South Gujarat with Congress falling weak,” asserts Dabhi.
BJP strategists in the state are optimistic that “AAP’s presence would spoil the Congress position further and add to BJP's gain.” However, some strategists, though they see a gain in AAP contesting in Gujarat, are wary of what will happen five years down the line after the party opens its account.
The state will have two-phase Assembly polls on December 1 and 5, while votes will be counted on December 8.