With less than a week to go for the by-elections to eight assembly constituencies in the state, two years before the present government’s tenure ends, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress have been defending and justifying the elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, in Limbdi constituency of Surendranagar district that is going for a by-election for the second time in the past two terms, voters seemed to be content with what they have. The seat with a record number of 14 contenders in fray also has the highest number of independent candidates contesting among the eight assembly seats going to poll.
“The state government does not conduct elections; the Election Commission of India (ECI) does. Elections are not just being held in Gujarat but Uttar Pradesh and the entire Bihar state. Countries like the United States and New Zealand are also having elections amid the Covid pandemic. Election campaign and meeting people is a part of democracy and we have to be careful,” Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani told a huge gathering during a campaign in Limbdi on Wednesday.
The BJP has fielded veteran leader and former minister Kiritsinh Rana from the seat, while the Congress has chosen a local face after 30 years — Chetan Khachar, 42.
Rana is contesting from the seat for the eighth time. He fought and won from Limdi in 1995, 1998, 2007 and 2013 but lost in 2002, 2012 and 2017. Kiritsinh’s father Jitubha won this seat on a BJP ticket in 1990.
The bypoll was necessitated after Congress MLA Soma Ganda Patel resigned from the seat in March this year ahead of Rajya Sabha election.
Further justifying the by-elections, Rupani added, “It is only because eight Congress MLAs resigned that these by-elections are being conducted. These eight Congress MLAs met me and expressed their desire to help the Narendra Modi government in the Rajya Sabha as they were tired of their leaderless party that lacks ideology….”
On the other hand, Congress candidate Chetan Khachar who addressed a gathering in Ghanshyampur, nearly 20 kilometres from Limbdi, blamed the BJP for the same.
“It is only due to BJP that these elections are being conducted… Huge money is spent on an election… the taxpayers’ money is spent on election after election. During the time of Covid where money should be spent on strengthening health infrastructure, BJP does not have money to spend for hospitals but it has enough money to pay MLAs in crores,” said Khachar, who is contesting an assembly election for the first time. Khachar has won district panchayat elections from Sayla in 2005, 2010 and 2015.
However, Both the Congress and the BJP claimed that the result of this by-election will not impact them. “There will be no impact of these by-elections as we will continue to be in the government,” Rupani said.
Khachar claimed, “Neither the Congress nor the BJP will be affected with the by-elections. But one thing is certain that with BJP in power, there is a threat to democracy. Also, remember that this election is for a term of only two years.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Khachar said, “There is no democracy but only dictatorship under BJP rule… the gram panchayats are not allowed to work independently but forced to act as a stamp to sign on decisions taken in an undemocratic manner.”
Limbdi is dominated by voters of Koli community — the largest OBC group in the state. “In terms of development, there is everything in our village — be it school, healthcare facilities, roads, underground sewage or drinking water. We do not seek anything from the candidates,” said Mafatbhai Jograna, one of the panchayat members of Ranagadh village.
Chandravijaysinh Rana, a farmer with a 20-acre land holding in Balgamda village, the native of BJP candidate Kiritsinh, said, “We wanted day time electricity supply for farmers but that, too, has been recently assured.”
On elected representatives resigning leading to by-elections, Bhahilbha Gohil, former sarpanch of Ghanshayampur, said, “They are supposed to work for the people who have voted them… But their leaving one party or seat is beyond our control.”
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