With two new anti-Narendra Modi fronts likely to emerge on the election scene,the Gujarati voter is set to be presented with more serious choices than usual in a traditionally bipolar state. What may set them back is that they are so similar that neither may appear to the voter as an alternative to the other.
Former chief minister Keshubhai Patel,Modis arch rival,has found a new ally in Maha Gujarat Janata Party founder Gordhan Zadaphia,who announced last week that the former would launch a new party. Days later,another BJP rebel,MLA Kanu Kalsaria,teamed up with godman Swami Agnivesh and former Congress minister Sanat Mehta to announce yet another party.
Completing the fray will be the Samajwadi Party,aiming higher than ever before,and the BSP which has already tested itself across Gujarat once. The SP is expected to contest all 182 seats,having fought only 21 last time. Its ambitions heightened after its victory in UP and before the 2014 general elections,the SP has been trying to woo migrants in south and central Gujarat. The BSP had already contested 166 seats last time and is expected to compete again.
The NCP too has a presence but it is a Congress ally,not an alternative to the two major parties. It is set to demand a higher share of seats after unexpectedly winning three last time.
For the two anti-Modi fronts,the absence of unity between them raises the likelihood of anti-Congress and anti-BJP votes being split. And the leaders of either offer little or no variations in terms of electoral planks. The stress by Keshubhai and Zadaphia,a former BJP home minister,on corruption,farmers and communities is echoed by Kalsaria: We will focus on issues like corruption,communalism and matters affecting those involved in primary occupation such as farming and fishing. Asked if the apparently common agenda can affect each partys prospects,Zadaphia said,We know little about the new group.
There is rivalry between and within the splinter groups,too. Kalsaria had won a couple of local body elections in coalition with the Congress and even teamed up with Zadaphia before finding the new allies in Swami Agnivesh and Mehta. Zadaphia and Kalsaria had earlier been supporting each others agitation. Besides,Kalsaria has also won Mahuva Taluka Panchayat with the help of the Congress. Congress leaders such as Vitthal Radadiya and Bavku Unghad have also been seen with Keshubhai and Zadaphia.
Kalsaria will be fancying his chances after successfully steering a farmers campaign against the Nirma groups cement plant at Mahuva,where he went against his own partys government,and for which it has not taken any action yet. Kalsaria and his group have hinted at contesting 25 seats,with Saurashtra-Kutch as focus,but Zadaphias MJP,which will be making its electoral debut,plans to contest all 182.
Gujarat has a long history of political rebellion but the rebels have traditionally had little electoral success. There have been exceptions though. One was that of the Morarji Desai-led Sanstha Congress that emerged out of a Congress split in 1970. In 1975,in the aftermath of the Navnirman Agitation,the breakaway group was part of an umbrella of five parties the others being the Jansangh,the RJP,the Majdhur Sangh and the SP that,supported by the Khedut Majdoor Lok Paksh,kept the Congress,the single largest party,out of power.
Other rebels who have tasted a degree of success include Chimanbhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela,who formed parties after breaking away from the Congress and the BJP,respectively,but their moments were short-lived. In 1990,Chimanbhai,with the help of the BJP,became CM as leader of Janta Dal (Gujarat). The government lasted less than a year. And in 1997,Vaghela,after toppling the Keshubhai Patel government,became CM from the newly floated Rashtriya Janata Party,made largely of BJP rebels. In the elections next year,the RJP got only four seats.