In a year when the Gujarat BJP welcomed into its fold several MLAs from the Congress ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections, newly appointed BJP state president C R Paatil asserted that the party would not induct leaders from other political parties, as he wound up on Saturday his maiden tour to Saurashtra where the saffron party has not done well in recent times. Paatil’s reception in Saurashtra saw huge crowds at his rallies, notwithstanding the restrictions in times of Covid-19.
Among the high points of his visit was when Naresh Patel, president of ShreeKhodaldham Trust, received him at Khodaldham, the temple to the deity of clan of the Leuva Patels where the state BJP chief was weighed in 97 kg of silver collected by party supporters from Junagadh and Gir Somnath which was then donated to the temple.
Patel had so far stayed away from being openly associated with any politician, but in the case of Paatil he made an exception. Surat, where Paatil is based, has a huge presence of people, especially Patidars, who have migrated from Saurashtra. Paatil, himself a migrant from Jalgaon, and a former policeman, is the first non-Gujarati to hold this top post of the BJP in the state.
Hardik Patel too had picked Saurashtra for his maiden tour when he was appointed working president of the Congress recently.
This was the newly-elected BJP president’s second round of reaching out to party workers and local leaders after covering four districts of south Gujarat. In Saurashtra, he chose to begin his tour from Gir Somnath, the district where the BJP had lost all the four Assembly seats in 2017 elections and had also fared badly in the 2015 local body elections held in the aftermath of the Patidar quota stir.
His next stop was Junagadh district where the party had managed to win just one out of five Assembly seats in 2017 and lost almost everything in local body election two years before that.
In Rajkot, Congress had given a scare to the ruling BJP in the 2015 election to the Rajkot Municipal Corporation. Surendranagar, the last stop of his four-day trip to Suarashtra, too had swung the Congress’ way in 2017 Assembly election as the ruling party was defeated in four out of five seats.
He took many by surprise by publicly asking local BJP leaders and workers in Somnath to keep their differences aside and ensure that the party wins all four seats in the 2022 elections.
The following day, in Junagadh, he repeated that groupism could harm the party as an organisation and that those indulging in it would be shown their place.
On the third day, in Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s hometown Rajkot, Paatil asked workers not to join groups of any party leader while adding that workers would be rewarded on the basis of merit. He also underlined that the BJP had 1.13 crore workers in the state and that people from other political parties were no longer welcome though on the first day of his trip on Wednesday, he himself had inducted Dr Gopal Hadiya, a Congress member of Talala taluka panchayat, into the BJP during his stop in Talala, by offering the latter a BJP scarf.
His statement of being tough on groupism comes in the backdrop of a host of Congress MLAs and leaders defecting to the BJP in recent years and compatibility is still an issue in some pockets. It had begun soon after 2012 Assembly elections when strongman Vitthal Radadiya and his MLA son Jayesh quit Congress and joined the BJP.
In 2017, MLAs like Raghvji Patel (Dhrol), Dharmendrasinh Jadeja (Jamnagar north), Bhola Gohil (Jasdan) defected to the saffron party in the run up to 2017 Assembly election.
Post that election, leaders like Kunvarji Bavaliya (Jasdan), Jawahar Chavda, both then working presidents of Gujarat and strong OBC leaders led another round of defections which also included Vallabh Dharaviya (Jamnagar rural) and Parstottam Sabariya (Dhrangadhra).
In the latest round a few months ago, Congress MLAs J V Kakadiya (Dhari), Pravin Maru (Gadhda), Virendrasinh Jadeja (Abdasa), Brijesh Merja (Morbi) and Somabhai Patel (Limdi) resigned and save Somabhai and Maru, the rest joined the BJP.
Paatil was asked about struggle for dominance between groups of Bavaliya, the Water Supply Minister and his one-time chief rival in Jasdan, Bharat Boghra, but the BJP president said that it would come to an end now.
Saurashtra, which has 48 Assembly seats, is dominated by Leuva Patels, the sub-caste group of Patidar community. Riding the anti-BJP sentiment created in this community by the Patidar-quota stir then led by Hardik Patel, the Congress had increased its tally in Saurashtra to 28 seats in 2017 from 15 in the previous election while the BJP’s number had shrunk to 19 from 30.
Meanwhile, Congress demanded action against Paatil for not maintaining social distancing and organising public gatherings despite a ban on such events by the state government due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Paatil insisted that he hadn’t organised any rally, road-show or public meeting.
Senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia termed Paatil’s visit a failure. “He doesn’t have roots in Saurashtra and therefore failed to connect with workers while speaking language typical of a Surat police constable. There seemed to be an attempt to swing local units into action by language of threat and intimidation. Also, entire tour looked stage-managed with disproportionately high media coverage,” Modhwadia said, adding any sensible political party would have refrained from such mobilisation during the pandemic.
But Raju Dhruv, BJP spokesman for Saurashtra-Kutch, termed the visit a success.
“Enthusiasm among workers was evident in the manner Paatil was received everywhere on the tour. Every party president has his own style of functioning and whatever message he conveys is in the interest of people and the party. BJP is a cadre-based party which functions in bottom up system and not top down,” said Dhruv, adding, “The BJP, as appealed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has tried to set example of how to behave during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
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