The Gujarat Congress launched its door-to-door election campaign Tuesday, choosing Naranpura of Ahmedabad, the same constituency where BJP president Amit Shah had launched the Gujarat unit’s door-to-door campaign a week ago. Naranpura is a bastion not only of the BJP but also of Shah, who had won from here in 2012 before moving on to Rajya Sabha. It is from Naranpura where Shah had begun his career, as a booth-level party worker under the guidance of Narendra Modi.
State Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki and the party’s Gujarat affairs-in-charge Ashok Gehlot, former Rajasthan chief minister jointly launched the Congress campaign. As Gehlot and Solanki split into two teams and went from door to door, not many people seen coming outdoors to greet the campaigners, Congress workers then brought a portable speaker that Solanki used at some places to draw people’s attention.
On November 7, Shah had received huge receptions during the BJP campaign. When The Indian Express asked a Congress worker accompanying Solanki about the difference in response, the worker laughed. “It is enough that our campaign has been launched from here and the party president has come. All of us know it is a BJP bastion.”
Shah’s pitch that day development work by the BJP in the last two decades, mainly under Modi’s leadership. He distributed a letter by Prime Minister Modi, asking all voters of Gujarat to vote for the BJP by giving precedence to development over dynastic politics, communalism, casteism etc. Shah distributed a pamphlet with figures of various development parameters before and after 1995, highlighting differences between Congress and BJP regimes.
Solanki, on the other hand, distributed a pamphlet containing promises to the people if the Congress comes to power. These include unemployment allowance to educated youths, loan waiver for farmers, cheaper power, cheaper petrol and diesel, lower housing tax, affordable and quality education, and a house for every homeless woman.
Solanki and Gehlot warmed up with a visit to Kankariya Hanuman temple near Bhyangdev locality before starting to meet voters one-on-one. The two leaders were joined by 50-100 party workers at Sola Housing, an area with a number of housing colonies. Later, Solanki visited a temple of Lord Shankar, Panchdev Mahadev Mandir.
For the last couple of years, the Congress has been adopting what is being seen as soft Hindutva to win the confidence of Patidars and a significant section of OBC communities. Such temple visits are being seen as a step in that direction.
At one place, Solanki was confronted by a Patidar woman who identified herself as Jayshreeben Patel. She raised civic issues and complained that politicians come only for votes during elections and ignore their issues afterwards. Solanki heard her out and moved on, telling her that they would keep her issues in mind. Solanki also visited shops on Bhyangdev-Sola Road seeking votes.
Solanki was accompanied by Nitin Patel, who is seen as the probable Congress candidate for Naranpura. Asked about the long gap since the Congress had last gone from door to door in Naranpura, Nitin Patel said, “Yes, all this is being done after a long time. The Congress’s festoons must have been put up here [in Naranpura] after 22 years.”
Naranpura, a seat formed after delimitation in 2008, has had only one assembly election so far — in 2012, the one Shah one. It has been a designated assembly segment of Gandhinagar for the last two Lok Sabha elections.
The constituency of 2.75 lakh voters, predominantly Hindu, is dominated by urban middle-class Patidars, OBCs and Jain communities. Dalits too form part of the electorate. The population has migrated mainly from the old walled city of Ahmedabad following regular communal riots there in the late 1980s.
In 2012, Shah won from Naranpura by over 60,000 votes, polling nearly 70% of the vote. The BJP has not yet announced Shah’s successor for the constituency; names doing the round include his close aides Ajay Patel who is the chairman of Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank, and current Ahmedabad mayor Gautam Shah.