Maintaining his stronghold over Jasdan Assembly constituency, Gujarat minister Kunvarji Bavaliya, who had crossed over to the BJP from Congress, was re-elected from his pocket borough for the sixth time on Sunday. With this victory, the BJP’s strength in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly has now touched 100.
In the bypoll that was necessitated by his resignation as a Congress MLA in July this year, Bavaliya, a dominant Koli leader from Saurashtra, defeated his Congress rival Avsar Nakia, another Koli leader, by nearly 20,000 votes. He also increased his victory margin in the Koli-dominated seat by nearly 10,000 votes from his 2017 Assembly victory margin when, as a Congress candidate, he had defeated BJP’s Bharat Boghra, a Patidar, by over 9,000 votes.
Notably, the voting pattern suggests that Bavaliya — who polled 90,262 votes (54.60 per cent), higher than 47.48 per cent he had polled just a year ago as a Congress candidate — got only a small pie of Patidar votes, traditional BJP voters, this time. After Kolis, who hold around 39 per cent votes in the constituency, Patidars form the second largest group of electorates with around 24 per cent votes.
Nakia, on the other hand, secured 70,283 votes or 42.51 per cent, and has therefore kept the Congress in the game in a seat which Bavaliya claimed Congress owed its existence to his presence in the party.
With the BJP winning Jasdan, a predominant rural constituency, for the second time in eight attempts, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani hailed the party’s victory as “an endorsement of farmers’ support to the agrarian policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, and called it a “victory of the BJP’s lotus symbol”.
Referring to the Congress’s recent win in the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, Rupani said, “After its victory in Assembly elections in three states, the Congress had engaged in various types of false propaganda while campaigning for the by-election in Jasdan. They sent an army of their leaders to Jasdan and tried to win the election by hook or by crook… The Congress staged a lot of drama in the name of farmers. Some even wore garlands of onions while casting their votes. But farmers have voted for the BJP in hordes. The hefty margin of Bavaliya’s victory shows that rural people of Jasdan – farmers, various other communities – have expressed their confidence in the BJP. They have endorsed the programmes of BJP governments at the Centre and in the state. In the name of farmers, Congress gave many hollow promises. But people now know the true face of the Congress, and the BJP has become stronger in Gujarat.”
“People of Jasdan demonstrated a lot of maturity. They have helped BJP’s Kunvarji Bavaliya win not by 2,000 votes or 5,000 votes, but nearly by 20,000 votes. Bavaliya had won his previous election by a margin of 9,000 votes. This shows, this is a victory of the lotus symbol of the BJP as committed voters of the BJP and those who were earlier loyal to the Congress have voted for the BJP this time round. The bypoll has given an indication that the BJP will win all the 26 seats Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat under the leadership of Narendra Modi next year,” Rupani told reporters in Gandhinagar after the results were announced.
Later in the afternoon, Rupani flew to Jasdan and addressed a public meeting to celebrate Bavaliya’s victory.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also thanked people of Jasdan seat for the victory of BJP in the bypoll. “I thank the people of Jasdan for blessing the BJP and supporting the party’s development agenda. Congratulations to Kunvarjibhai Bavaliya for the victory,” Modi tweeted. He also appreciated BJP leaders of the state and Chief Minister Rupani.
Bavaliya, on his part, credited the win to his supporters, party workers, state BJP president Jitu Vaghani and his one-time rival, Bharat Boghra, who he had defeated in the last Assembly elections. “Vaghani, Boghra and their team as well as party workers and those who have supported me in the past also worked for me and this is their victory. I am just the face of the victory. Now, that the people of Jasdan have made me victorious with a huge margin, I promise to prioritise drinking water issue and other important pending issues. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Vijay Rupani have a soft corner for people of this region and we shall do what it takes for comprehensive development of the area,” Bavaliya told reporters in Jasdan after his victory.
The 63-year-old leader had quit the Congress on July 3, alleging that he was being neglected by the party despite his “stellar record” in the elections that included five victories from Jasdan Assembly seat from 1995 to 2017 and a win from Rajkot Lok Sabha seat in 2009. Justifying his decision to join the BJP, Bavaliya told his constituents that since he had been an opposition MLA in all his terms, he was unable to serve them, and therefore would join the ruling party. Within hours of Bavaliya quitting the Congress, he was made a Cabinet-rank minister in the BJP government and allocated water supply, animal husbandry and rural housing development departments.
The Congress, which had accused Bavaliya of defecting to the BJP for “for his greed for power and selfishness”, on Sunday conceded defeat. “I thank the people of Jasdan for their love and support. We accept our defeat with humility. We will continue to raise the voice of farmers and people in the Assembly as well as on the streets,” state Congress chief Amit Chavda said.
After the defeat, Nakia said that he could have performed better had he got more time for campaigning. “Bavaliya had been visiting villages and meeting people as a minister for the last four months. I got barely two weeks to meet people living in 105 villages of the constituency as Congress officially declared my candidature at the very last moment. For the paucity of time, I was not able to hold meetings with voters of many communities and that cost me dear. Nonetheless, I got more than 70,000 votes and I thank people for that. I assure to keep working for them,” Nakia, who is a sitting member of Rajkot district panchayat, told The Indian Express.
Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said that with the party garnering over 70,000 votes, “it also means that people of Jasdan have confidence in us”. “Ruling parties enjoy a certain degree of advantage in bypolls and the BJP misused state machinery to swing Jasdan by-election in its favour. They made rampant use of money to bring result in its favour,” he, however, added.
Polling for the by-election was held on Thursday that witnessed a heavy turnout of 71.23 per cent.