A number of smaller parties have added colour to the elections in Gujarat, a state with a reputation for being bipolar.
The BJP is going it alone in all 182 seats while the Congress is contesting 175, having given up 6 seats in an alliance struck with one smaller party — Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) of Chhotubhai Vasava — and surrendered a 7th so that Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani can have an open field against the BJP.
Among the prominent other parties are the NCP of Sharad Pawar, which had contested in 2007 and 2012 in alliance with the Congress and won 3 and 2 seats respectively. Its talks with the Congress having failed this time, the NCP has fielded 72 candidates. The Congress rejected an alliance because NCP MLA Kandhal Jadeja had voted for the BJP in the Rajya Sabha polls last August. Another reason, according to Congress leaders, was that the NCP was demanding 16 seats, which the Congress found unreasonable following only 5 seats in 2012.
“The NCP wanted to be a partner in a united front against the BJP but the Congress ditched us,” said state NCP president and sitting MLA Jayant Patel. Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi, on the other hand, said the NCP has no base of its own and cannot challenge the Congress when it has tied up with community leaders Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Mevani.
Although the NCP is not seen as enjoying a decisive base, some of its candidates in can harm the prospects of the Congress by splitting the anti-BJP vote.
The biggest damage is likely to be in Surat district where the NCP has fielded candidates in 9 of 16 seats. The Congress, for its part, is hoping to gain from the Patidar quota agitation in Surat. The three-way fight “will divide the Congress votes and favour the BJP”, according to an NCP leader himself.
Akram Ansari, who was Congress councillor in Limbayat of Surat, was denied an assembly ticket, joined the NCP and got the ticket to Limbayat. Ansari described his base: “I have good relations among all people in Limbayat. Muslim voters number over 78,000, know me personally and will vote for me. I have good relations with the North Indian community and hail from Uttar Pradesh myself; these 34,500 voters too will support me.”
AAP, which set up a unit in Gujarat after its victory in Delhi, announced last year that it would not contest in Gujarat as it does not have the infrastructure needed. It did not contest municipal and district panchayat polls in 2015. But after Gulab Singh Yadav had replaced as Gujarat-in-charge a few months ago, new in-charge Gopal Rai announced that AAP would contest seats where it has a presence. AAP has fielded 33 candidates, including two in Ahmedabad city.
AAP’s Gujarat face Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria, the former BJP MLA, is contesting as an independent from Mahuva in Bhavnagar, from where he had won thrice before losing as an independent in 2012. Kalsaria had met Rahul Gandhi and reportedly wanted the Congress to back his nomination, but PCC president Bharatsinh Solanki ruled it out.
Jan Vikalp has been formed by former CM Shankersinh Vaghela, after he quit the Congress. The leader, 78, with a background in the RSS, the BJP and the Congress, now finds himself isolated. Both AAP and the NCP are said to have spurned his offer of an alliance. He has fielded 70 candidates but neither Vaghela nor his MLA son Mahendrasinh are contesting.
Though Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) has no base of its own after Chhotubhai Vasava broke away, it has fielded 11 candidates, one of them against Vasava.
The Samajwadi Party has fielded 5 candidates. State SP chief Surendra Yadav said he had sought a seat adjustment with the Congress but the latter did not respond. In 2012, the SP polled 16,000 votes in Choryasi of Surat, where migrant workers from UP live, and it could harm Congress in parts of Surat.
The BSP has fielded 165 candidates.