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In Gujarat’s 44 urban seats, BJP sits pretty, as Congress, AAP pin hopes on ‘real issues’

Gujarat’s urban Assembly constituencies across 8 municipal corporations have always been a key bastion for the ruling BJP, giving the party a decisive edge in elections after elections since 1995.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Dhoraji, Gujarat on November 20 for election campaign of BJP for upcoming Gujarat elections. (Express photos by Chitral Khambhati)

As the campaigning by the political parties for the Gujarat Assembly elections, due in first week of December, goes full steam now, they have been focusing sharply on the 44 urban seats in eight municipal corporation belts — Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, Gandhinagar, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar and Junagadh — across the state.

Gujarat’s urban Assembly constituencies have always been a key bastion for the ruling BJP, giving the party a decisive edge in elections after elections. However, besides the BJP’s traditional rival Congress, two more players, the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Asaduddin Owaisi-headed All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) are now keen to contest these seats, which have thus raised their electoral stakes this time.

Its near-total dominance in the urban seats has always been at the heart of the saffron party’s winning streak in Gujarat since 1995.

In the 2012 Assembly polls, of the state’s total 44 urban seats, the BJP won 40. In Ahmedabad, of the 16 seats, the party won 13. It won all 12 seats in Surat’s urban areas and all five in Vadodara’s urban pockets. Similarly, it won all four seats, 2 seats each, in Bhavnagar and Gandhinagar. In Rajkot, it won three of four such seats.

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In the previous 2017 Assembly elections, the BJP won the polls but recorded its lowest tally since 1995, winning 99 of the state’s total 182 seats. The elections were held in the backdrop of the Patidar quota agitation and subsequent emergence of three youth leaders – Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani. This hurt the party’s prospects in rural areas, especially in the Saurashtra region.

However, even in the 2017 polls the BJP managed to hold on to its urban seats with a haul of 38, just one less than the previous elections. In Ahmedabad, the party won 12 seats, while in Surat and Vadodara it continued to sweep all 12 and five seats, respectively. It also bagged all urban seats of Rajkot (4), Bhavnagar (2) and Jamnagar (2).

In the upcoming Assembly elections, Surat city may especially witness a keen battle between the BJP and the AAP. Some top leaders of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) that spearheaded the Patidar quota stir – Gopal Italia, Alpesh Kathiriya and Dharmik Malaviya – are currently fighting elections from Surat as the AAP candidates.

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On November 17, the AAP’s candidate from Surat East, Kanchan Jariwala, withdrew his nomination amid a row, with the AAP accusing the BJP pf allegedly “kidnapping” and “forcing” him to pull out of fray, which the BJP rejected as “baseless”.

The entry of the AIMIM may be notable in some seats of Ahmedabad city, which have a sizeable Muslim population, such as Jamalpur-Khadia, Dariapur, Danilimda, Bapunagar and Vejalpur. However, on November 19, the AIMIM candidate from Bapunagar, Shahnawaz Khan, withdrew his nomination and declared his support to the Congress.

In all, AIMIM has fielded 13 candidates across the state.

A senior BJP leader from urban Gujarat said, “Urban seats can be considered as the backbone of our party. It is very crucial not only for maintaining a decisive majority over Opposition, but also for the fact that it revolves around party’s core political ideology of Hindutva.”

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The BJP leader also said, “Except those urban seats where there is minority domination like Jamalpur-Khadia, Dariapur and Danilimda in Ahmedabad, we don’t see any major Opposition in urban segments. One of the major reasons of this is the communal violence that the cities of Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara have seen in 1980s and 1990s. After that, BJP has come to power and people have seen the difference. Communal safety is the key consideration for an urban voter and precisely for that reason no party is even close to BJP in urban areas.”

He also said, “And an incident like the Aaftab Poonawala-Shraddha Walkar case can further polarise the urban people, who are mostly educated, in favour of BJP. After such incidents, people will take the hardcore Hindutva line thinking that there is no alternative to BJP.”

According to the BJP leader, the infrastructure created by the BJP in Gujarat’s urban belts and the facilities set up at places of worship like Ambaji, Somnath, Pavagadh etc. are “added advantage” for the party there. “In 2017, we were facing so much opposition from even Patidar community, and yet the urban seats remained with us. Whereas, in 2022, there is no agitation and Hardik (Patel) and Alpesh (Thakor) are with BJP whereas (Jignesh) Mevani does not have a great following in urban areas. So, we will continue to roll in urban seats.”

On the AAP’s impact on urban seats, he claimed, “AAP is not going to be a factor for BJP. People have realised that it is just making hollow promises and nothing else. Out of (every) 10 votes that AAP may get in urban areas, eight are going to be those of Congress. It is going to be a major spoiler for Congress this time and one of the reasons for our comfort.”

The BJP leader further said that the recent video of the AAP’s jailed Delhi minister Satyendra Jain getting a massage and old videos of Gujarat AAP chief Gopal Italia’s alleged remarks “against the Hindu community and Prime Minister Narendra Modi could prove costly to the AAP in urban areas”.

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The AAP, however, believes that the elections in urban areas are this time going to be fought on “real issues of the people” while going “beyond Hindutva-based politics”. The AAP’s spokesperson Yogesh Jadvani predicts 25-30 seats for the party in urban segments.

“For BJP, Hindutva-based politics was an easy and cheap politics available to it. But, this time around, for the first time, the state is witnessing issue-based politics,” said Jadvani. “In urban areas common people live who are feeling harassed by rise in costs of education, electricity and house rents. And so, they are attracted by various guarantees given by Arvind Kejriwal like up to 300 unit free electricity, free health, free education etc. We are going to win 25-30 seats from the urban pockets.”

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The Congress also echoes this point while hoping to improve its performance in urban seats. The grand old party’s spokesperson Manish Doshi said, “We had worked very hard in urban areas in 2017, but did not get the desired result. But in 2022, we are pretty confident that our performance will improve.” He also said, “Urban areas have four major issues of education, employment, health and tax. And people have realised that unlike BJP, we are talking about real issues. We have promised to bring urban employment guarantee scheme. So, we are hopeful.”

First published on: 20-11-2022 at 19:50 IST
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