Gujarat’s Deputy Chief Minister Nitinbhai Patel fighting hard to retain his seat in the Mehsana constituency
A hotbed of Patidar quota agitation, Mehsana in north Gujarat had seen the very first rally for the quota on 6 July 2015. It was from here that the agitation spread across the state and led to the Patidar Maharally in Ahmedabad on 25 August 2015, which later sparked rioting and curfew across the state. In Mehsana too, just two days after the Ahmedabad Maharally, two youths were killed in police firing.
It is for this reason that Mehesana is expected to see one of the toughest fights in Gujarat. The constituency is among the 70-odd constituencies of Gujarat where Patidar community votes hold the keys for electoral success. Here Patidars constitute about 28 per cent of the population.
Deputy chief minister Nitinbhai Patel, himself a Patidar, is seeking re-election from here. Will he be able to keep his Patel/Patidar supporters’ base is to be seen against the backdrop of Hardik Patel’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) has raised a call to defeat him at any cost. The place had witnessed large-scale violence in 2015 when the Patidar agitation was at its peak.
Sources said that Nitinbhai had unsuccessfully sought to relocate himself to a safer seat in Ahmedabad this time.
Just a day after his re-nomination from the Mehsana seat, he had urged the Patidar community to support him: “Everybody is asking me about Mehesana because it all (Patidar quota agitation) started from here…Our community should not prove gullible this time…” He even reminded the gathering that it was the present Gujarat Congress President Bharatsinh Solanki’s father and former chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki, who had led the government that “killed 58 youths” during the quota stir of 1980s.
Claiming that the “PAAS stands exposed”, in the wake of the tough fight ahead, he has even called both Hardik and the Congress “fools”.
The Mehesana assembly constituency this time has the highest number of candidates, 34. Nitinbhai acknowledges this but says despite the constituency having the highest number of candidates, “I am confident it will not affect my prospects.”
Among others, Nitinbhai also faces a strong challenge from the Congress’s Jivabhai Patel, a former member of Parliament who in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections had defeated Nitinbhai by 14,511 votes to win the Mehesana Parliamentary constituency for the Congress. However, in the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, Jivabhai had lost to the BJP’s Jayshreeben Kanubhai. He had then secured 45.15% votes against Jayshreeben’s 48.31%.
Nitinbhai was first elected to the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha from Kadi in 1990 and was reelected from there in 1995, 1998 and again in 2007 after losing his seat from there in 2002. After delimitation, when Kadi was made a SC reserve seat, he moved to Mehesana constituency and won from there in 2012 assembly elections by a margin of 14.82% or 24205 votes against his nearest Congress rival Natvarlal Patel. The former had then secured 90134 votes.
61-year-old Nitinbhai is considered the Bharatiya Janata Party’s second-most important minister in the state. He had first became a minister in the state in 1995 when the BJP had won the majority in Gujarat for the very first time.
He was also a key contender for the Chief Minister’s post after the resignation of Anandiben Patel in 2016 in the wake of the Patidar reservation agitation. However, he had to be contended with the deputy CM’s post as the party leadership opted for Vijay Rupani as CM in 2016.
Election in Mehsana is in the second phase on 14th December 2017.
*The writer is a senior journalist