Why is the steamroller of a ruling BJP headed by the indomitable Narendra Modi in Gujarat running scared of an infant regional entity headed by an over-the-hill patriarch from their own ranks?
The first signs that the ruling party in the state is gripped by anxiety pangs due to the newborn Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) headed by former chief minister Keshubhai Patel were visible when it opposed the allotment of an election symbol to the regional outfit.
The party has shot off letters to the Election Commission and the state’s poll panel chief seeking the withdrawal of the ‘bat’symbol allotted to it as well as demanding that all GPP candidates be classed in the category of independents. The ruling party in the state has raised numerous objections on assorted grounds—all technical— to buttress its contentions.
Even BJP’s national spokesperson Nirmala Seetharaman thought it fit to raise the issue at her media interaction in Ahmedabad on Monday. Her contention was that the GPP had failed to provide its list of candidates to the EC three days before the notification for allotment of party symbol as required and so was a fit case for all its candidates being declared as Independents.
GPP vice president Suresh Mehta termed the objections as flimsy and hilarious and not worthy of any serious comment.
The BJP has all along maintained a studied silence in the matter of Patel, one of the founding fathers of the Gujarat BJP and its pillar of strength to whom goes the credit of leading the first ever party government in Gujarat as chief minister in 1995. He was replaced by Modi in 2001 and quit the party along with senior leaders such as former union minister Kashiram Rana to join up with the BJP rebels of the 2007 polls like former chief minister Suresh Mehta and former state minister Gordhan Jhadapia to form the GPP earlier this year.
Though outwardly it remained quiet despite Patel’s aggressive, acidic attacks on Modi, inwardly the party top brass is considerably exercised at how to deal with the new regional entity.
Both Modi and his men are aware that their former patriarch and his GPP possesses the potential to cut into the BJP vote bank causing grievous injury to the ruling party particularly in Saurashtra region of the state where he commands considerable respect.
It is now abundantly clear that most Sangh Parivar outfits in the state and that includes the RSS, the VHP and the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) are split with a section openly vouching support for Patel and his GPP.
The shadow of Patel over the BJP is clearly visible in the first list of 84 candidates. Modi’s surefire formula of ducking anti-incumbency by axing a large chunk of sitting MLAs (50 per cent were axed in 2007) has been shelved with all but 7 being repeated this time. Even veteran ministers like Vajubhai Vala in Rajkot and Narrottam Patel in Surat marked for the axe managed to crawl back into the reckoning thanks to the attack.
Keshubhai is himself in the fray from Visavadar and the Congress through a ‘sleight of hand’ has ensured that he is locked in a straight fight with the BJP. It gave the ticket to a candidate but in a lame excuse said that a child ran away with the party mandate and tore it leading to its rejection.
In the 2007 Vidhan Sabha elections , the margin of victory was less than 3000 votes in about 50 of the total 182 seats. A difference of a few thousand votes in a triangular contest can cost the ruling party heavily .This is a cause for concern for the Modi team this time. Saurashtra accounts for 52 seats and the BJP bagged 38 seats in the last elections. The GPP has the potential to tilt the balance even if it fails to win. A gainer in this region, the BJP lost out in central Gujarat where it had 49 of the total 57 seats in 2002 and was reduced to 30 seats in 2007. It is working hard to regain central Gujarat but may face erosion in Saurashtra. The tilt of Patel voters may well prove decisive and Keshubhai banks heavily on it discomfiting Modi majorly.