The Congress seems to be in a tight spot ahead of the Junagadh Municipal Corporation (JMC) elections scheduled on Sunday after nine of its candidates either withdrew their nominations or extended support to the BJP.
Of the six who withdrew nominations, four are Muslims, two being sons of sitting Congress corporator, Ibrahim Kureshi. Among the defectors is Vinu Amipara, former president of the Junagadh city unit of Congress, who joined the BJP on Wednesday.
Amipara, who contested against Vitthal Radadiya of the BJP in the bypoll to the Porbandar Lok Sabha seat in 2013, has been openly supporting the ongoing Patidar quota agitation. However, he resigned as president early this month “upset over ticket distribution for JMC election”. He formally joined the BJP in the presence of Gujarat state BJP president Jitu Vaghani at a media event in Junagadh on Wednesday.
“For 20 years, I have been serving as a grassroots worker of the Congress but I’ve been facing neglect for the past five years. Grassroots workers are being neglected. There was change in style of functioning of the party and there was no chemistry between workers and leaders. Therefore, I decided to join BJP as a grassroots worker to serve the society,” Amipara said after accepting BJP scarf from Vaghani. Several of his supporters also joined the BJP.
On July 9, Hasina Pathan, Monaj Bloch, Aslam Kureshi and Akram Kureshi — Congress candidates for Ward No.3, Haja Karamta from Ward No. 9, and Bhavna Tank from Ward No.13 withdrew their nominations.
The withdrawal from Congress fortress of Ward No. 3 handed victory to BJP candidates Nisha Kariya, Abbas Kureshi and Sharifa Kureshi as there were no other candidates. Candidature of Harun Sama, the fourth BJP candidate for Ward No. 3, was rejected during scrutiny pointing out that he had more than two children, in violation of the two-child norm.
Elections are now being held for 59 seats only as there is no candidate contesting in one of the four seats in Ward No. 3. There are 15 wards in the JMC and each ward has four seats. Polling is scheduled for July 21 and counting of votes will be on July 23.
Congress is effectively contesting 49 of the 60 seats in the civic body, as one party candidate, Varsha Vadukar from Ward 13, could not file her nomination claiming the party mandate did not reach her on time.
The Congress declared its candidates just hours before the deadline for filing of nomination papers on July 6. Papers of another Congress candidate, Krunal Modi, were rejected during scrutiny. Subsequently, six Congress candidates withdrew their nomination papers and three others declared support to the BJP.
Aslam and Akram, who defected to the BJP, are sons of Ibrahim Kureshi, sitting Congress corporator from Ward 3. Abbas, the third son of Ibrahim, is also a sitting Congress corporator from Ward No. 3. Sharifa is wife of Ibrahim’s younger brother, Wahab. Abbas and Sharifa are now uncontested winners after Congress candidates withdrew from the fray.
Trouble continued for the Congress with Hasmukh Dabhi and Alpa Unadkat, Congress nominees for Ward No. 9, and Lakshman Ravaliya, Congress candidate for Ward No.13, declaring support to the BJP and joining the saffron party.
Junagadh civic body was dominated by Congress till the year 2000. It was declared a municipal corporation later and the first JMC election was conducted in 2004 when the BJP won by defeating the Congress. Sitting MLA Mahendra Mashru was made mayor. Congress staged a comeback and dethroned the BJP in 2009. However, a month before the 2014 civic body election, then deputy mayor Girish Kotecha and other seven sitting Congress corporators defected to the BJP. The saffron party snatched JMC back from the Congress by winning 14 out of 60 seats.
The last Congress mayor of Junagadh, Lakhabhai Parmar, was denied ticket by the party this time forcing the veteran who won civic elections seven times to contest as an Independent. “I kept waiting till the last moment but I did not get mandate. This was the work of Satish Captain who has been into anti-party activities from within the Congress. Because we Dalits and Muslims helped Bhikha Joshi win the Assembly election, we have been punished by denying us tickets,” says 74-year-old Parmar.
Satish Virda alias Satish Captain was Junagadh mayor from 2009 to mid-2012. Joshi defeated sitting BJP MLA Mahendra Mashru in the 2017 Assembly election, ending the latter’s 35-year-long reign in the Junagadh Assembly constituency. However, Captain and Joshi are leading two main factions of Congress in Junagadh. Amipara was with Joshi camp before he joined the BJP. Parmar also blames Hemang Vasavada and MM Bloch, both Congress incharge for JMC election, and even accuses them of taking money.
Congress leaders point fingers at the BJP and allege that the ruling party is “killing democracy” to remain in power. “This is not a fair election. The BJP has either pressured or lured our candidates in a bid to retain power but killing democracy in the process. Saffron is the colour associated with Hinduism and I also respect it. But the saffron of the BJP has become the symbol of corruption worst than fourth-stage cancer in Junagadh,” says Hemang Vasavada.
Senior Congress leader Balubhai Patel, who is camping in Junagadh for the election, says that the BJP is indulging in “politics without principles”. He says, “True, every party’s focus would be to win power. But that cannot be at any cost and anyhow. This ‘anyhow’ indicates politics without principle, one of the vices pointed out by Mahatma Gandhi. The BJP is trying to win this election anyhow without even allowing our candidates to fight,” he says.
Addressing a press conference in Junagadh on Wednesday, BJP leader Vaghani accused Congress of not letting its own leaders work. “With Amipara and his team joining the BJP, Congress shop is almost being shut in Junagadh now. It is because they are not allowing people to work and instead are promoting those who are making a business of it. Had Congress allotted tickets as suggested Amipara and others, he would not have joined the BJP,” he said.
Trashing Vaghani’s accusations, Vasavada said, “For the record, both Amipara and Junagadh MLA Bhikha Joshi were present at the party meeting in Gandhinagar to decide candidates for JMC election. They had a big say in allotment of tickets. It is for everyone to see now as to who was working for the party and who against it. I offer to quit public life if anybody proves that I’ve taken money to allot party tickets.”
Aslam Kureshi (24), Akram Kureshi (20), Ward No.3
Sons of sitting Congress corporator and Congress veteran, Ibrahim Kureshi alias Ibrahim Gambler. Neither have ever contested election. They help their father in resort and cable services distribution business. Both of them withdrew their nomination papers. “My father has been serving Congress for 30 years. He is 66 now and therefore he opted out. When our elder brother Abbas filed his nomination as a BJP candidate, he asked us brothers to contest. So we filed our forms. Later we realised that the Congress had denied tickets to many of my father’s long-time friends. We withdrew our nomination papers to protest their manner of ticket distribution,” says Aslam, sitting in his office in Sukhnath Chowk.
Haja Katara (24), Ward No.9
A farmer and money-lender who studied till Class XII, Katara is the cousin of Abha Katara, a two-time sitting BJP corporator from his ward. Abha is the younger brother of Karman Katara, Junagadh’s deputy mayor who was allegedly murdered while in office. Haja was pitted against Abha when he withdrew his candidature. “Ideologically, I am close to the BJP. There is so much corruption in Junagadh. Therefore, people of my area asked me to contest the election, after which I filed my nomination. However, I had to withdraw from the race due to family issues. Advocate Deepedra Yadav, who I consider my Guru advised me against contesting,” says Haja, adding he would not campaign for the BJP.
Hasmukh Dabhi (52), Ward No.9
Dabhi, who hails from Koli community, is the vice-president of Association of Palanquin Bearers at Mount Girnar and also runs a sweetmeat shop. He was pitted against Dhirubhai Gohel, who is tipped to be mayor, but declared support to the BJP and also joined the saffron party. “After I filed my nomination papers, a meeting of our community was organised in Bhavnath (the foothill of Mount Girnar). We were told that if we continued with Congress, the community may not support us. I cannot ignore my community and therefore, I declared support to the BJP. However, it would have been nice had the BJP given at least one ticket to Kolis who dominate Ward No.9,” says Dabhi who studied till VIII.
Alpa Unadkat (42), Ward No.9
Unadkat is a journalist and a two-term Congress corporator in the JMC. She was elected to JMC in 2004 and 2009 on Congress ticket. She lost the 2014 election to Kotecha as a Congress candidate. The party allotted her ticket for the third time and she filed her nomination, only to extend support to the BJP later. “Kamlesh Mirani (president of Rajkot city unit of BJP), who is a leader of our community and former MP Mohan Patel’s son Kalpesh approached me to join the BJP. I thought it was the right time to seize the opportunity to serve the people in a better manner. I may not become a corporator this time but I hope the BJP would appreciate my abilities and give me a suitable role,” says Uandkat.
Bhavna Tank (44), Ward No.13
Wife of Pradeep Tank, a builder in Madhuram area of Junagadh, Bhavna contested Lok Sabha election from Junagadh Parliamentary constituency as an Independent a couple of months ago but lost to the BJP’s Rajesh Chudasama. Bhavna filed her nomination papers as a Congress candidate only to withdraw them two days later. “I thought there was a chance for a woman like me to fight an win an election. But hours after I filed my papers, I developed chest pain and had to be hospitalised. In the meantime, Ravaliya extended support to the BJP and Vinu Amipara also resigned. The duo were our mainstay. Therefore, I withdrew my candidature,” says Tank who studied till Class XII.
Laksham Ravaliya (60), Ward No.13
Ravaliya, a farmer and who runs educational institutions in Junagadh city as well as Ahmedabad, says he was a Congress worker for 20 years. He lives in posh Giriraj Park in Timbavadi area and was a member of the executive of Junagadh city unit of Congress. His wife Beena contested JMC election in 2014 but lost. “I was the leader of Congress team in my ward and we all declared support to the BJP as the Congress leaders’ support was limited to just allotting tickets. They did not protect us. That is when I realised that I cannot continue with this party. The party MLA was not even visiting our area,” says Ravaliya who hails from Ahir community. He claims BJP state leadership approached him.