ON Thursday, the BJP declared its national president and Rajya Sabha MP Amit Shah as candidate for the Gandhinagar seat, ending the six-term representation of party veteran L K Advani.
The declaration of Shah’s candidature from Gandhinagar marks the symbolic end of the Advani-era in the BJP, and in Indian politics. It was during Advani’s years as an MP from this seat that the veteran launched the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, laying the ground work for the BJP’s emergence as a national party.
However, party sources say that during the BJP’s internal exercise of selecting candidates for each of the 26 seats in the state, almost all representations from Gandhinagar constituency had sought Shah’s candidature. Follow more election news here.
Shah launched his career as an MLA in 1997, winning from Sarkhej seat which was then part of the Gandhinagar parliamentary seat. After delimitation, Sarkhej was dissolved into Assembly seats such as Naranpura, Sabarmati, Ghatlodia and Vejalpur. In 2012, Shah contested and won from Naranpura. By then, Shah had already been pole vaulted to national politics and appointed national party president. In 2017, he made his Rajya Sabha debut.
As MLA from Sarkhej, Shah’s skills as election strategist and backroom operator were in ample display. Among the prime campaign managers for Advani, Shah ensured maximum leads from his own constituency to make up for losses in other parts of the Lok Sabha seat.
With Shah ready to make his debut in the Lok Sabha, his candidature has come as a boost for the Gujarat BJP, which had faced a resurgent Congress in the 2017 Assembly elections.
Gandhinagar has remained a high-profile seat for the BJP since 1991, with Advani getting elected from the same seat since then, except for one term, when former PM Atal Bihari Vajapayee got elected from the seat in 1996. Before Advani, former CM Shankersinh Vaghela, who later joined the Congress and is now with NCP, represented the seat.
Gujarat BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya said, “Gandhinagar is a VIP seat. When Amitbhai contesting from the seat, our cadre will be motivated and enthused.”
Party sources say that fielding Shah from Gandhinagar, a BJP bastion, frees up the BJP president who can then pay attention to more “challenging” constituencies.
Kishor Chauhan, BJP MLA from Vejalpur Assembly constituency, said, “Gandhinagar is Gujarat BJP’s capital seat. Most of the seats in Gandhinagar were once part of Sarkhej, which Amitbhai represented for long. He has also been associated with Ghatlodia and Naranpura Assembly constituencies. So he does not need to give much attention here. We have told him that all he needs to do is come and file his nomination.”
Party sources say the BJP’s Central leadership was of the opinion that one of the top two leaders — Prime Minister Modi and Shah — must represent Gujarat in the Lok Sabha elections to boost the morale of the party cadre following the party’s “below expectation” performance in the 2017 Assembly elections.
The Congress, however, accused the BJP of turning Gandhinagar into a high-profile seat but taking its voters for granted.
“The BJP has been continuously fielding high-profile leaders from this seat. But around 35 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. People here still lack access to affordable education, health and potable water,” said Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi. Though the party is yet to declare its candidate for Gandhinagar, sources say Gandhinagar (North) MLA C J Chavda is a probable candidate.
Gandhinagar, which has 19.20 lakh voters, includes the seven Assembly seats of Gandhinagar (North), Kalol, Sanand, Ghatlodia, Vejalpur, Naranpura and Sabarmati. Except for Gandhinagar (North) and Kalol, which voted in the Congress in 2017, the other five Assembly seats are being represented by BJP MLAs.
Besides Advani, Vajapayee and now Shah, Gandhinagar has had other high-profile candidates such as former CEC T N Seshan (1999), the late political scientist Purushottam Mavalankar (1977) and Vithhal Pandya (2004), father of former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya.
While the BJP has been counting on the development it has carried out in the constituency — the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar metro rail project and the financial hub of GIFT city, among other things — Jagaji Thakor, a farmer from Uvarsad village says he could do with one other “development”. “Our village doesn’t have a sewage line. Currently, the sewage gets released into the village pond. I hope they do something about that.”