Gujarat Key Constituency: Bhavnagar West
By Deepak Parvatiyar*
On November 21, just before Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gujarat state unit chief Jitu Vaghani filed his nomination papers from Bhavnagar West, the party’s national president Amit Shah addressed an impressive rally in the constituency. Shah calls Vaghani his “friend” and told the gathering that he had come as Vaghani’s friend and not as the BJP president.
Shah has been throwing his weight behind him for obvious reasons. Before him, the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi as well as the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel had aggressively campaigned against the BJP in the constituency, in a bid to rake up the anti-incumbency factor as well as the issue of quota for Patels. Aware of the consequences of these twin factors, Shah deftly handled them saying: “The Gujarat election 2017 is not just a fight between two parties or a fight for who will become the chief minister, but it is to decide if ‘jativad’ and ‘vanshvad’ will win or Narendra Modi’s ‘vikasvad’.”
Yet caste factor very much matters here and will very well play a deciding role. It had required Shah to intervene and broker a truce between Vaghani and Karadia Rajputs here after Vaghani had upset the the Rajputs or Kshatriyas by intervening against a sarpanch from the community. Besides, Shah being a Vaniya too is expected to corner the Vaniya votes for Vaghani.
The constituency has a total of 2,41,282 votes with 1,25,688 men and 1,15,594 women. Of the total number of voters, around 54,300 votes belong to the Koli community, 36,000 to the Patels, 23,000 to the Kshatriyas and 12,000 to the Vania community. There are 14,000 scheduled caste voters, 22,000 minority community voters and 50,200 OBC voters.
The fact that Vaghani too is a Patel is likely to negate the Hardik factor here. His main opponent is the veteran Congress leader, Dilipsinh Gohil, who had unsuccessfully contested the 1999 general elections from the Bhavnagar Parliamentary seat. He belongs to the Darbar (Kshatriya) community. In 2012, Vaghani’s nearest rival here was Congress’s Dr. Mansukhbhai Kanani, whom the former had defeated with a comfortable margin of 53893 votes, while securing 92584votes.
There were speculations of fielding Congress strongman and one of its national spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil against Vaghani. Things would have become interesting in that case as in 2007, Gohil had defeated Vaghani from the same seat then known as Bhavnagar South. After delimitation in 2012, the seat was renamed Bhavnagar West. Gohil, who is the only person to be elected for three terms as an MLA from the then Bhavnagar South constituency is this time contesting from Mandvi in Kutch. Locals feel that Shaktisinh’s candidature would have helped the Congress exploit the anti-incumbency against Jitubhai in a more effective manner.
Vaghani, meanwhile, also banks on public’s positive response to the BJP’s promise to legalise construction in Kaliyabid. Yet another factor would be how Patels of Nari Gaam vote for being included in Bhavnagar corporation against their wishes.
Incidentally, Vaghani is the second state BJP chief from the town after Rajendrasinh Rana, who was the state BJP chief from 1998 to 2006.
*The writer is a senior journalist