Congress leader Paresh Dhanani, who won the Amreli seat for the third time, on Monday denied that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aggressive campaign in the second phase had much impact, or that it swung the verdict against the Congress. He said the campaign had, however, turned into “Patidar-versus-others” in urban areas. “I would say we failed somewhere… .The campaign had turned into Patidar-versus-others. Though its impact was negligible in rural areas, where people live harmoniously, it did show in urban areas and we will have to work on that. We will continue to work towards a swasth (healthy), swachh (clean) and sundar (beautiful) Gujarat,” he told The Indian Express.
He said the election verdict showed that the people had accepted the narrative of the party. “Rahul (Gandhi)ji’s Gujarat campaign showed that the people accepted him, which was reflected in the results. Today we stand shoulder to shoulder with the BJP, and this is only because the people accepted our narrative,” he said in a phone interview while travelling around his constituency to thank voters. Even though the BJP would form the government, this was a vote for “change” and against the politics of “bhay, bhram aur bhrashtachar (fear, deception and corruption)”, he said.
An AICC secretary, Dhanani was one of those who planned Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s campaign in Gujarat, especially in Saurashtra. Asked how the Congress would take forward the new Assembly formation— with new and young firebrand legislators like Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor, and candidates backed by PAAS leader Hardik Patel — Dhanani said, “Change is the way of the world. We fought a principled battle and successfully dispelled the impact of a rival campaign based on bhay, bhram, bhrastachar, we will continue our struggle to fight these forces.” Asked why the sentiment against the GST and demonetisation did not work in Surat, where the BJP won 15 of the 16 seats, Dhanani said: “I am yet to see the results in detail. Maybe there was some fault on our part. However, I have been told that in 25-30 seats, our defeat has been only by about 3,000 votes. We will have to assess why.”
Surat’s diamond industry is largely powered by migrants from the districts of Amreli, Bhavnagar, Junagadh and Rajkot. Its textile market had observed a 21-day strike against the GST.
Asked about the defeat of top Congress leaders Arjun Modhwadia (Porbandar), Shaktisinh Gohil (Mandvi), Siddharth Patel (Dabhoi) and Tushar Chaudhari (Mahuva), Dhanani said, “Those who fight public battles face defeat, but this time it looked like a campaign to spread fear and create a warp of lies. Gujarat lost an opportunity (for a new government). However, I believe this will create the ground for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.”
To a question on his role in the Assembly, he said, “The party leadership will decide.” The last Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Shankersinh Vaghela, quit the Congress in July, leading to 13 more resignations and defections to the BJP. Dhanani made his debut in the Gujarat Assembly as its youngest MLA as a 26-year old in 2002. He won on a Congress ticket in an election following the riots.