A day after it changed candidates on four seats, the Congress on Tuesday replaced its Botad nominee to pose a strong challenge to BJP heavyweight Saurabh Patel. D M Patel, Botad district Congress president, has replaced Manhar Patel as the Congress candidate. Party spokesperson Manish Doshi said D M Patel has been fielded as he would be a stronger candidate against former finance minister Saurabh Patel.
Meanwhile, in the Patidar-dominated Kamrej Assembly segment in Surat, both the previous and the current nominees of the Congress filed their candidature Tuesday afternoon, claiming they had the party’s mandate. The Congress, Monday night, had replaced Nilesh Kumbani with Ashok Jirawala, ostensibly under pressure from Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS).
Even as Kumbani maintained that he had received no direction from the Congress against filing the nomination, the Surat district election officer said Jirawala would be treated as Congress candidate as per rules. Kumbani’s nomination, according to the poll official, stands cancelled.
On Sunday night, the Congress had declared its candidates for 77 seats, leading to protests by PAAS members, who claimed that the party ignored their demands. Hardik, who was supposed to announce his outfit’s support for the Congress on Monday during a rally in Rajkot, put off the public meeting, apparently miffed with the party’s first list.
Following the announcement of the first list on Sunday night, PAAS supporters had damaged the offices of Nilesh Kumbani and Praful Togadiya’ in Kamrej and Varachha areas, respectively. The PAAS workers said they do not support these two Congress candidates. Amid PAAS protests, the Congress on Monday night released a fresh list of 13 names, replacing four candidates, including Kumbani and Togadiya. While Jirawala replaced Kumbani on Kamrej seat, Dhirubhai Gajera was named in place of Togadiya on Varachha Road. Following the changes, no PAAS protest has been witnessed against the new candidates, with the outfit’s leaders supporting the new list.
Kumbani, also a municipal councillor, said, “I was not present when some youths came to the office and broke doors, chairs and window panels. I have come to know that it was a conspiracy by some dissatisfied Congress leaders to snatch the poll ticket from me with support from the PAAS. Before filing the nomination form, I contacted Surat PAAS co-convener Alpesh Katheriya and Surat Congress president Hasmukh Desai — both gave me a green signal for filing the nomination form. The party leadership has not contacted me or told me not to file nomination form.”
On the other hand, Jirawala, also a municipal councillor, said, “I have got mandate from the Congress party to contest from Kamrej. I was in the race, but due to some mistake Nilesh’s name was declared in the list. Our party will cancel the mandate of Nilesh Kumbani and eventually, I will be the only Congress candidate from Kamrej.”
Surat District Election Officer M S Patel said: “In a such case, the rule says the person filing the nomination must state that the previous mandate given by the party should be treated as cancelled. In the case of Kamrej, the first mandate was given to Congress candidate Nilesh Kumbani, but when Ashok Jirawala had filed his form, his mandate had a note stating that the first mandate given to Nilesh Kumbani has been cancelled. Now, Kumbani’s form will be treated as cancelled, and Jirawala will be treated as Congress candidate.”
The Congress Monday night had also replaced its candidates for Bharuch and Junagadh.