It is Jain Vaniya CM versus a rich Brahmin in the Patel heartland
Considered a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bastion, Rajkot West is the biggest constituency within the Saurashtra region of Gujarat. Having given three chief ministers to the state – Keshubhai Patel, Narendra Modi and the present CM Vijay Rupani, this wealthy urban seat is now better known as the BJP’s “CM seat”. Rupani had won the by elections here in 2014 when Vajubhai Vala, the incumbent speaker of Gujarat Legislative Assembly, resigned as the MLA from Rajkot West as he was appointed as the governor of Karnataka. Rupani had then won by a comfortable margin of 23,740 votes, securing 81,092 votes as against his nearest Congress Party rival Jayanti Kalaria’s 57,352 votes.
This time though, he faces some anxious time here in face of the almost two-year old Patidar (Patel) agitation over reservation. The challenge before him is to win over the Patel votes in a constituency which has been the epicenter for the Patidar agitation. (It may be mentioned that Rajkot district, the financial center of Saurashtra, lies at the centre of Gujarat’s Patidar hinterland). Around 75,000, or almost one-fourth of the constituency’s population, are Patidars, who are a key voting bloc here.
The architect of the Patidar agitation and leader of Patidar Anamat Aandolan Samiti (PAAS), Hardik Patel, is going all out, campaigning against Rupani in the constituency — “Vijay Rupani has done nothing for the state or for Rajkot..” PAAS has already extended its support to the Congress. On Wednesday, 28th November, it organized in the constituency an impressive public meeting “Mahakranti”, which was addressed by Hardik and was reported to be attended by over 20,000 persons. Hardik belongs to Patidar’s sub-caste, Kadva. There are 40,000 Kadva Patels in the constituency as against 28,000 Leuva Patels. A split in the community may help the BJP and Hardik is wary of such a possibility as he said: “They (BJP) are trying to divide us into Kadva and Leuva… But we are one, we are Patidars. Vote against the BJP… If you do not, then they will think that we (Patidars) are powerless.”
Yet, it is interesting that in this Patel heartland, the main contest is between a Jain Vaniya, Rupani, and the Congress’s ‘imported’ Brahmin candidate, Indranil Rajguru. The chief minister is facing a stiff contest from Rajguru, who is state’s richest candidate. In 2012 the latter had won from Rajkot East seat by a slender margin of 4272 votes. This time he has changed his seat to challenge the chief minister and the Congress party says that he has been nursing the constituency for the last one year. His party is also raking up the issue of November 2017 SEBI issuing ex parte order imposing a penalty of Rs. 1500000 to Rupani’s firm for creating misleading appearance in the stocks through “manipulative trades”. It may be mentioned however, that later the Securities Appellate Tribunal set aside the penalty order and asked the SEBI to issue fresh order and hear all the entities
This aside, 61-year-old Rupani, the sitting MLA, is a known public face of the city where he was twice elected as corporator of Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) in 1987 and 1995. He also served as the mayor of Rajkot from 1996 to 1997. Thereafter, he climbed the political ladder and was a member of Rajya Sabha from 2006 to 2012. He was inducted as minister in the first cabinet expansion by Chief Minister Anandiben Patel in November 2014. He also became the president of the state BJP in February 2016 and thereafter in August 2016 he replaced Anandiben Patel as the chief minister.
Incidentally, even as both the BJP as well as the Congress are campaigning aggressively here, the chief minister’s busy campaign schedule across the state means lesser time for him for his constituency. In such a situation, his election campaign is being managed by his wife, the saree-clad, bespectacled Anjaliben, the general secretary of the BJP’s women’s wing. She is doing door to door canvassing where she tells the voters: “Amne yaad rakhjo (Do remember us).” This is a refreshing change from the past when Modi, as well as Anandiben, used to campaign alone when they were CMs. Anjaliben is calm and confident: “People here are aware about the work the BJP has done. There is no contest as we do not want to defeat anyone. We just want to win people’s heart.”
*The writer is a senior journalist