Among the 100 seats former Gujarat chief minister Shankarsinh Vaghela’s new front is contesting, a prominent exception in Kapadvanj of Kheda, from where he had been elected as a Congress candidate in 2012.
The reason for opting out of Kapadvanj, the breakaway Congress says, is to allow an open field to Bimal Shah, a loyalist of Keshubhai Patel and a former BJP minister, now an independent. With a 45% Kshatriya population, Kapadvanj has been a stronghold for Vaghela, as was the Lok Sabha seat of the same name before it ceased to exist.
Most leaders had expected that Vaghela, “Bapu” to his supporters, would keep Kapadvanj either for himself or for his son Mahendra. “Both Mahendra and I are busy building our front at the grassroots,” Vaghela says. “We are travelling extensively and there is no time to contest the polls.”
Shah was twice BJP MLA from Kapadvanj before going independent. “I am supporting this very strong candidate, Bimal Shah,” Vaghela says. “There is an understanding between us that I will support him and he will support me. I have not yet planned the schedule, but I will go to Kapadvanj to campaign.”
When The Indian Express tried to contact Shah, he was busy campaigning, a member of his team said. Shah quit the BJP when the party renominated Kanu Dabhi, who lost to Vaghela in 2012. That year, too, Shah had quit the BJP after the party had fielded Dabhi. Shah joined Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party, extended support to Vaghela, and rejoined the BJP in March 2014.
Besides Kapadvanj, the Vaghela-led front — his Jan Vikalp Morcha and its ally All India Hindustan Congress Party — has not fielded candidates in any constituency where the BJP has fielded a former Congress MLA inducted into the BJP following the Rajya Sabha polls last August. The front has no candidates to take on Amul chairman Ramsinh Parmar (now BJP) in Thasra, or Mansinh Chauhan from Balasinor. It has no candidates either against several BJP heavyweights — Saurabh Patel in Botad, Pankaj Desai in Nadiad, and Jetha Ahir in Sehra — nor in Anand district’s Petlad, where BJP leader C D Patel takes on sitting Congress MLA Niranjan Patel.
“Bapu has already said that there are some leaders whom he personally respects and whose candidature, therefore, he will not challenge. This is regardless of their party; he has not fielded candidates against Shaktisinh Gohil of the Congress,” says a Jan Vikalp leader. “There are also some seats where we did not field candidates following a process similar to that of primaries in the US. We wanted the people to tell us who they want as their leader. In some constituencies, people did not give their feedback.”
Of the 100 candidates contesting, 48 will contest in the first phase and 52 in the second. “We had fielded several other candidates, who have been rejected for minor reasons. In some cases, the returning officers misguided them,” says Parthesh Patel, spokesperson for Jan Vikalp. “We have let it go for now. We will put up a tough fight in the seats that we have in hand.”
Vaghela, who is currently touring constituencies voting the first phase, says he is confident of winning some seats. “I think seats in Surat, Chhota Udepur and also Saurashtra, where people are disillusioned with both the BJP and Congress, will provide us an advantage.”