After suffering setbacks in assembly byelections in Bihar, the BJP’s next test is in Gujarat where nine assembly seats as well as Vadodara, the constituency Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose not to keep, go to bypolls on September 13. For Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, emulating the Lok Sabha election performance presents a challenge in a state where the party has been left without a leader to match Modi’s appeal, and where it has chosen to field first-timers in all the seats barring Khambhalia.
Any seat not won will be a loss to the BJP, which represented all nine seats in the assembly before the MLAs went on to become MPs. These include Modi from Maninagar.
The party has set up for each seat a three-member observers’ committee as well as a people’s grievance cell. Anandi recently launched her campaign with a women’s convention at Deesa and called for a “Congress-free” Gujarat but at the same time acknowledged the magnitude of the task before her. “The upcoming byelections are a challenge for us, and particularly for me,” she said. “We need a 100 per cent result to prove to the Prime Minister that we can maintain his record.”
It was on Modi’s image that the BJP fought and won all three assembly elections since 2001. “Not one second-rung leader can claim a statewide appeal,” a senior leader said. “The BJP managed with Modi away from Gujarat in the LS elections because people wanted to see him as PM and voted for the BJP. No Gujarat leader addressed a public rally; the campaign was limited to road-shows.”
BJP state chief Ranchoddas Faldu and vice-president Kaushik Patel are no crowd-pullers, each having lost the last time he contested an assembly election. The party does not have Amit Shah to fall back on, for he will focus his attention on Uttar Pradesh which has bypolls to 11 seats the same day. And because Shah is seen as a rival of Anandi, she will be under pressure to match the recent UP performance too.
BJP general secretary Vijay Rupani has support at the grassroots but it is limited to Saurashtra. The former Rajya Sabha member has never contested an assembly or LS election. Veteran Purshottam Rupala could have pulled crowds but he was sidelined for long until he was inducted as national vice president in Shah’s new team.
Still in her first three months as chief minister, Anandi scored the first victory of her tenure last month when the BJP won the Junagadh Municipal Corporation. The key reason, however, was that a large number of Congress corporators had crossed over to the BJP just ahead of the elections.
BJP in 4 more Raj Bhawans
Falling out behind him
Kalyan Singh, 82
To Rajasthan; from UP
Once the BJP’s Hinduvta face in UP, twice chief minister (1991 and 1997), Kalyan Singh has not always shared happy relations with the party, having broken away twice, but all that is apparently behind them. Also a backward classes face, he was chief minister in the BJP’s first majority government for a year before he resigned following the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. In 1999, he fell out with Atal Bihar Vjapayee and formed the Rashtriya Kranti Party, which went on to join the Mulayam Singh Yadav government of 2003. A reunification in 2004 was followed by another parting of ways in 2009. His son Rajveer joined the SP, which backed Kalyan as an independent candidate in Etah. When Mulayam snapped ties with him, Kalyan formed the Janakranti Party but it fared poorly in 2012. He returned to the BJP last year; Rajveer Singh is now a BJP MP.
Always party first
Vajubhai Vala, 76
To Karnataka; from Gujarat
In 2002, when Narendra Modi needed to win an election after being inducted as Gujarat CM, Vajubhai Vala happily surrendered the BJP stronghold of Rajkot-II, which he had represented since 1985. From the beginning of his career as a Rajkot councillor in 1975 through being Gujarat assembly speaker until today, Vala has been known as a leader who puts the party above everything else. His other trademarks are his dress code — crisp, white shirt and trousers — and a sense of humour that leaders say endears him to everyone else. For Vala, the appointment as Karnataka governor will mark his first assignment outside of Gujarat; he has never even campaigned anywhere else. “He has always been the party’s man. Nothing else mattered,” says Gujarat BJP general secretary Vijay Rupani. “It’s a proud moment for Rajkot city. He is the first politician from Rajkot to become a governor.”
C Vidyasagar Rao, 69
To Maharashtra; from Telangana
The BJP national executive member is a senior leader from Telangana who has been minister of state for home in the Vajpayee government from 1999 to 2004. A product of Osmania University, Rao practised law until 1984 when he joined politics. Elected thrice as an Andhra Pradesh MLA (1985, 1989, 1994) from Metpalli in Karimnagar and appointed the party’s floor leader. MP from Karimnagar Lok Sabha seat in 1998 and 1999, before K Chandrasekhara Rao of TRS defeated him in 2004. Contested again in 2014 but lost. “I am honoured and humbled by the responsibility that has been given to me. I have always considered myself a simple and committed worker and the party has time and again entrusted me with important tasks. I will work sincerely and will ensure that a person who hails from the Telangana-Andhra region does not bring the governor’s post to disrepute,’’ Rao says.
Author and educator
Mridula Sinha, 71
To Goa; from Bihar and Delhi
Sinha is an author and educator who has served the BJP for 30 years, including as president of the Mahila Morcha. Her books include Rajmata Vijayraje Scindia’s biography Ek thi Rani Aisi Bhi and novels Jyon Mehndi ko Rang, Sita Puni Bole and Gharwaas. Sinha, who hails from Chhapra village in Muzaffarpur, is now based in Delhi. A postgraduate in psychology, she was principal at a Motihari (East Champaran) school for some time before deciding to focus on her writing and going on to edit a magazine. Her husband Ram Kripal Sinha was a minister in the Janata Party government of Bihar in the late 1970s. She has also been chairperson of the Central Board of Social Welfare. Her posting as governor comes after she had been considered and denied the BJP ticket to the Vaishali seat, which was eventually given to the LJP.