THE RULING BJP on Saturday released the list of candidates for 15 more Lok Sabha seats in the state, retaining 14 sitting MPs as candidates.
Candidates to three Assembly bypoll seats in Saurashtra region were also announced alongside, with all three being Congress turncoats, two of whom joined the BJP recently whereas one had defected during the Rajya Sabha election in 2017. The Assembly bypolls will be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha election on April 23.
Among the list of Lok Sabha candidates released by the central election committee of the BJP were the names of Mohan Kundariya, Poonam Maadam, Naran Kachchadiya, Bharati Shiyal and Vinod Chavda. They are the sitting MPs of Rajkot, Jamnagar, Amreli, Bhavnagar and Kutch respectively.
The party retained as candidates at least three parliamentarians whom it reportedly considered dropping.
Playing it Safe
In the 16 of 26 Lok Sabha seats list declared by the BJP so far, only two candidates have been dropped-LK Advani, ostensibly due to age, from Gandhinagar, who was replaced by party president Amit Shah, and Devjibhai Fatepara from Surendranagar who has been replaced by Mahendrabhai Munjpara. This indicates that the BJP, which is aiming at winning back all 26 seats, is playing it safe. On expected lines the candidates for the three of five assembly constituencies declared are all former MLAs of the Congress, two of whom had resigned over the last one month. The party however is wary of the Assembly election trends of 2017, which is why it has not yet declared candidates for the Unjha and Talala Assembly seats vacated by Congress MLAs. Sources in the party said the party was also waiting for the legal outcome on Talala, where erstwhile MLA Bhaga Barad has challenged his disqualification and the matter is pending before the Gujarat High Court.
In the case of the Navsari Lok Sabha seat, Koli leaders had made loud representations to the party observers’ team to field one of them instead of CR Patil, a Maratha strongman who has held the seat for two terms. The party, sources say, was not able to find a suitable candidate from the Koli community and has retained Patil.
As for Surendranagar, the party dropped sitting MP Devji Fatepara, in whose place it named Mahendra Munjpara, a practising physician of the area and a BJP worker. Incidentally, in the state Assembly elections held in December 2017, the BJP was almost entirely wiped out of Surendrangar, losing four of the five seats in the district to the Congress. It lost Chotila, Limdi, Dhrangadhra and Dasada seats while managing to retain only Wadhwan seat. Dhandhuka and Viramgam Assembly seats, which are part of Surendranagar Lok Sabha seats had also gone to the Congress in 2017. Fatepara seems to have been dropped also because he is facing a case registered under the Negotiable Instruments Act for allegedly not paying up for a land deal.
Fatepara, who hails from Koli community that dominates the Surendranagar Lok Sabha constituency was a Congress leader but defected to the BJP in the run up to the last General Election in 2014. Fielded on a BJP ticket, he defeated fellow Koli leader and Congress veteran Somabhai Patel.
BJP sources confirmed that Fatepara had demanded a go at a second term from but was denied a ticket. “Munjapara has been a well-wisher of the BJP and a worker of the party,” said Dilip Patel, president of Surendranagar district unit of the BJP. “He enjoys much popularity due to his motive of service while practicing medicine. He charges minimal consultancy fee despite being an MD.”
With this, the BJP has announced its candidates for 16 out of 26 Lok Sabha seats in the state. On Thursday, the BJP announced that its national president Amit Shah will contest from Gandhinagar, the parliamentary seat held by BJP veteran LK Advani for a long time.
Interestingly, Kundariya, Maadam, Shiyal and Chavda will be seeking second terms from their own constituencies, while Kachhadiya will be seeking a third term. Amreli was the district where the BJP performed at its worst in the entire Saurashtra region in the 2017 Assembly election, losing all five seats in the district to the Congress. The party also lost control of the district panchayat, most of the taluka panchayats and a majority of municipalities in Amreli after the Patidar reservation agitation in 2015. Kachhadiya is the lone standing major BJP figure in Amreli, the district dominated by Patidars.
Like Fatepara, Maadam was also a sitting Congress MLA but she defected to the BJP in the run up to the Lok Sabha election in 2014.
Meanwhile, the BJP also declared Javahar Chavda, Sabariya and Raghavji Patel as its candidates for Manavadar, Dhran-gadhra and Jamnagar-Rural Assembly constituencies for which by-elections are scheduled respectively . These constituencies in Junagadh, Surendranagar and Jamnagar districts had fallen vacant after Chavda, Sabariya and Vallabh Dharaviya, sitting Congress MLAs from these seats quit the Congress, resigned as MLAs and defected to the BJP early this month.
Chavda was later sworn-in as minister of tourism and fisheries. Sabariya’s defection came just two weeks after he walked out of jail on bail in an irrigation scam in Morbi district.
Raghavji Patel, the Patidar leader who was among more than a dozen Congress MLAs who defected to the BJP during the Rajya Sabha polls in 2017, is another of BJP’s candidates. At the time he defected, he was sitting Congress MLA from Jamangar-Rural constituency, having defeated Ranchhod Faldu, then president of Gujarat state unit of the BJP in the 2012 Assembly election. The BJP offered him a party ticket to seek re-electon from the same seat in 2017 but he was defeated by Dharaviya of the Congress. Now, the ruling party has fielded him again from that seat for the second time in 14 months.
Dharaviya while resigning from the Congress and as an MLA from Jamnagar-Rural, had said that he was returning to his old party, the BJP, as he was fed up with factionalism in Congress. While joining the BJP, he had also clarified that he would not seek a BJP ticket to contest the bypoll from the same seat.
With this, the party has announced candidates for six out of eight parliamentary seats in Saurashtra-Kutch region. The party is yet to announce its candidates for Porbandar and Junagadh seats. Vitthal Radadiya, the sitting BJP MP from Porbandar is battling a serious illness and is unlikely to contest.
In Vadodara, the party is retaining sitting MP Ranjan Bhatt, who contested her first lok sabha seat in the bypoll of 2014 after Prime Minister Modi vacated the seat, after he won from Varanasi too. Bhatt was the deputy mayor of Vadodara Municipal Corporation and a corporator of a city ward at that time, and her nomination at the time had come as a surprise to many within the party. Currently, she is president of the city unit. Ranjan’s rise to the party’s top posts is seen by her rivals as a move to thwart “thinking leaders”. An MLA of the party from the city, who was a strong contender for the ticket in 2014 as well as this time, said, “Everyone knows that it is a lobby at play and Ranjan will do as she is told by the people in that faction.” The MLA who did not want to be identified added, “They don’t want a thinking leader who may question what is being asked of them.”
The contest will now be between Bhatt and Congress city president Prashant Patel, who is contesting his first election since his days as a student leader of the Maharaja Sayajirao University 22 years ago. Patel, who kickstarted his campaign by visiting a temple of Goddess Amba in the city earlier this week, is into the construction business and is seen as a non-controversial young face of the Congress. The leaders, however, are aware that Vadodara is BJP’s safest seat in the state. The party has not lost the seat except in 1996.