Four-time lawmaker Jawahar Chavda won a cabinet berth after he quit the Congress a month ago to join the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat. Within days, nearly 300 Congress members from the state’s Saurashtra region followed suit. Five-term legislator Kunvarji Bawalia, too, left the Congress in July last year to join the BJP.
The BJP is hoping the induction of top Congress leaders would help it regain lost ground in Saurashtra, which has seven out of Gujarat’s 26 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP swept the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in its strongholds like Gujarat, where it won all 26 seats, to return to power at the Centre.
The Congress had given a tough fight to the BJP in 2017 assembly elections and won 77 seats in the 182-member assembly. It was the party’s best performance in Gujarat in three decades. The strength of the BJP went below 100 seats for the first time in the state assembly since it came to power in the state in 1995. The BJP managed to win 99 seats.
In Saurashtra, the Congress won 32 out of 56 seats in the 2017 polls while the BJP got 23
The 2015 agitation of the Patidar community for quotas in jobs and education under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category and agrarian distress were blamed for the BJP’s poor performance in the region in the 2017 elections. The absence of a strong OBC leadership in the BJP, too, was seen as a key reason for the BJP’s loss of ground for the first time in the region to the Congress. OBCs account for 44% of the region’s population.
Chavda, an OBC leader from the Ahir community, is expected to make up for the lack of a strong leader from the community in the BJP and help it revive itself in the region. Chavda’s father,the late Congress leader Pethalji, was known for his sway over rural voters. “My father’s eyes would have welled up with tears on knowing the position [cabinet berth] they [BJP) have given me. They had 100 MLAs [after a by-poll victory in 2018]. One more would not have made much difference. But this [ministry] has been given for you. Now, we must pay them back,” Chavda said in Dungarpur village.
He is contesting a by-poll for the Manavadar assembly seat, which he had vacated after quitting the Congress. Manavadar would go to the polls along with 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat in the third phase of ongoing national polls on April 23.
The Congress hopes the Nyay scheme, under which it has promised ₹ 72,000 annually to the poorest families of India if it returns to power, to be the party’s saving grace. “We do not know if we will be eligible for ₹72,000 [Congress President] Rahul Gandhi [has promised]. While farmers in neighbouring talukas have received the first instalment under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Yojana, nothing has come our way thus far,’’ said Chhel Sankaliya, a 50-year-old farmer. He was referring the Centre’s cash transfer scheme under which 1.2 million farmers will get ₹6,000 in three instalments a year.
Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda brushed aside the impact the desertions may have on the Congress. “The BJP stands exposed. The people know that Congress leaders have been coerced and bought. The voters will give them a befitting reply,” he said.
Ahmedabad-based political analyst Deepak Rajani said the 10% quota for the poor in the unreserved category the Centre implemented this year has ended the Patidar agitation and the BJP’s struggle to hold on to its loyal Patidar supporters.
“On the agriculture front, the [Gujarat] government has waived electricity bills to the tune of over Rs 600 crore to woo back farmers. It is also making efforts to ensure a systematic purchase of agriculture produce with minimum support price and to connect 100 dams of this drought-prone region with Narmada waters,’’ said Rajani.
Apr 20, 2019 07:11 IST