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.
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Former Apple executive and Dwarka MLA Adarsh Shastri has also been included in the spokespersons’ list.