Former deputy PM and the man who helped the BJP find its electoral presence in India, Lal Krishna Advani will contest for the fifth time from Gandhinagar on a slippery ground.
Since 2009, Advani has increasingly been seen as someone who opposed Modi’s elevation. And this time, one of his biggest vote mobilisers, Amit Shah, is busy setting ground for Modi in Uttar Pradesh. And Modi will also be busy campaigning for his own constituencies, Vadodara and Varanasi.
Gandhinagar, a constituency that consists of the Patels and Thakurs, have voted consistently over the couple of decades for the BJP. It was Modi who, while helping him organise the Ram Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya in the nineties, had convinced his then mentor Advani to contest from this seat, which was previously represented by ex-RSS man and former Gujarat Chief Minister Shankersinh Vaghela. Since then, Advani has not bothered to look for a second option.
“Advaniji remains the party patriarch, but in Gandhinagar local leaders and workers feel more connected to Modi and Shah. In their absence, it is a bit difficult to mobilise workers,” said a senior BJP leader.
However, Advani has somehow lost his popularity in the constituency after he opposed Modi for BJP’s PM candidature. It was evident during his visit last month when he was accompanied only by Harin Pathak, former Ahmedabad East MP, who is miffed by the party’s decision to field an outsider, Paresh Rawal, from the constituency.
It was perhaps because of this that when the list was announced, Advani wanted to be shifted to Bhopal, where Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan can spare much time to campaign for him. The number of votes Advani managed in Gandhinagar in the 2009 LS elections is not very encouraging as well. He won 54.9 per cent votes from the seat with over 15.55 lakh voters.
He trailed in the remote segments of Gandhinagar district, but made up for them in Ghatlodia, Naranpura, Sabarmati and Vejalpur Assembly constituencies. Since 1999, Advani’s share of votes has been decreasing marginally in Gandhinagar. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee won Gandhinagar seat with 66.4 per cent votes in 1996 LS elections.
In 2009, Modi, who didn’t have any commitments outside Gujarat, campaigned for Advani extensively. Shah, who is an MLA from Naranpura, knows the four Ahmedabad Assembly constituencies very well. He has strong grassroots support in co-operative sector of the area. Now, as Shah is busy in UP, the responsibility of backing Advani is given to Anandi Patel, Cabinet minister of Modi government.
“She has already taken a meeting of workers in Ghatlodia, Naranpur and Sabarmati,” said a BJP leader. Patel might not match up to Shah’s mobilising skills, but can certainly win over the Patels, who have have remarkable presence in the three constituencies.
Congress heavyweight Shankersinh Vaghela is likely to campaign for Congress’s candidate Kirit Patel from the same constituency. Patel was a minister in Vaghela-led Rashtriya Janta Party government in Gujarat.
Advani has faced some star fighters, like former Chief Election Commissioner T N Seshan to Gujarat retired Director General of Police P K Dutta in 1998, who fought on Congress tickets. Late Vitthal Pandya, father of slain former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya, who had called the murder politically motivated, had also contested as an Independent from Gandhinagar in 2004 against Advani.