After being thoroughly outmanoeuvred by the Congress in the 2017 polls in Gujarat‘s Amreli district, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost all the five Assembly seats, the ruling outfit will seek to salvage its reputation by winning some of the segments this time around in an area which was once its stronghold.
In an election held in the backdrop of the Patidar quota agitation, the BJP faced the ire of voters and returned empty-handed in Amreli district, which was the hotbed of the stir for reservation in education and government jobs. The humiliating defeat in the Patidar-dominated district was a humbling experience for the BJP and its leaders in Gujarat even as the saffron party managed to win the state, though with a reduced majority, in 2017 when its seat tally fell below the 100-mark.
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“Losing all the five seats of Amreli district brought bad name to the BJP unit of the district,” chairman of National Cooperative Union of India and IFFCO (Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Ltd) Dileep Sanghani, who is also a party member, told PTI. “BJP leaders of Amreli, be it me or Parshottam Rupala (currently a Union minister) or Naranbhai Kachadia (sitting BJP Lok Sabha MP from Amreli) have decided that this time we should come together and make the party win all the five seats,” he said. Sanghani is a former Lok Sabha MP from Amreli, located in the state’s Saurashtra region.
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The five assembly seats of Amreli district are Dhari, Amreli, Lathi, Savarkundla and Rajula. Political observers feel the situation in the run-up to the 2017 polls was very different from the current scenario and the BJP may improve its electoral show in Amreli in the next month’s elections.
“There is no impact of the Patidar quota agitation in the 2022 polls. Amreli was a stronghold of the BJP for years. However, the Patidars had voted against the BJP in 2017, which caused damage to the ruling party,” said senior journalist Vijay Chauhan, who has closely followed the politics of the district for more than 30 years.
“Another factor that adversely affected the BJP in 2017 was the issue of farm distress, which is not visible this time around. Amreli is a district where people’s livelihood largely depends on agriculture. The situation has changed now as farmers have started getting good prices for their produce after the state government started purchasing cash crops like groundnut and cotton on MSP…they seem happy,” he said.
The third factor that can be positive for the BJP is the presence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the fray as this will divide the opposition votes, said Chauhan. However, the veteran journalist cautioned that all is not well for the BJP as issues like price rise, unemployment, anti-incumbency and corruption will go against the ruling party.
“Housewives are angry with the ruling party as their budgets have gone haywire due to rising prices of essential commodities. In rural areas of Amreli, you will find just old people or young children as youths have to go to Surat in search of jobs,” Chauhan said. Local Congress unit president Sandip Pandya said Amreli has remained one of the most backward districts of the state under 27 years of the BJP rule.
“In Amreli district, 98 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture. The farming community is unhappy with the state government as they have done nothing to improve their income. People here are fed up with the BJP government and they want a change (in state capital Gandhinagar),” said Pandya.
The Congress’s Amreli unit president dismissed the presence of AAP candidates and sounded confident about his party repeating the 2017 performance. “This is predominantly a rural pocket in which the Congress is strong. The party will retain all the five seats. The AAP will not be a factor here,” asserted Pandya.
For Mayur Sondharva, a young man who worked in Surat for three years in a diamond polishing unit and is now back to his native village Nani Kukavav, price rise is the main poll issue.”Whoever comes to power should think of common people, who are finding it difficult to run their homes properly because of rising prices. Employment opportunities are not available here and even in Surat,” Sondharva said.
Rajesh Chudasama, a farm labourer in the village, echoed his view. “See the price of cooking gas cylinders, or take any other item, price rise is killing poor people, they cannot live in this way. Whoever comes to power should urgently look into these issues,” he opined.Amreli district president of the BJP and party’s candidate from the Amreli segment (one of the 5 constituencies), Kaushik Vekariya, said people have realised their “mistake” of electing Congress candidates on all the seats last time.
He claimed the BJP will come back strongly in the district which will vote in the first phase on December 1.”Congress MLAs stand exposed in front of people as they are not able to do any work for the people of the district. They will be defeated this time and the BJP will win all the five seats,” Vekariya said.
In 2017, Paresh Dhanani (Amreli), Virji Thummar (Lathi), J V Kakadia (Dhari), Pratap Dudhat (Savarkundla) and Amrish Der (Rajula) were elected on Congress tickets.Voting to elect a new 182-member Gujarat Assembly will be held in two phases – December 1 and 5 – and ballots will be counted on December 8.