Electoral irony: BJP rebels backing party could split its votes in Vaghodia
Vaghodia (Gujarat), Nov 23 (PTI) Two BJP rebels, both pledging to back it if they win and both contesting as independents, are going head to head in this assembly segment, their very support queering the pitch for the ruling party’s official candidate.
That six-time BJP legislator Madhu Shrivastav, who was replaced by the party's Vadodara district president Ashwin Patel, is one of them makes the saffron party’s road to victory in this keenly watched constituency a steeper uphill trudge.
Against Shrivastav, whose exclusion from the BJP’s electoral fray was a surprise for many, is Dharmendra Sinh Vaghela. In more similarities, the two former party colleagues and opponents have the image of being 'dabangs' (fearless) and 'bahubalis' (strongmen) in the constituency.
Though the BJP has put all its might behind its official candidate Patel, the prospect of a vote split is real. The relatively low profile Patel will be fighting the two party rebels and candidates of the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in a multi-cornered contest on December 5 in the second phase of the elections.
“The BJP is more important than the candidate and we are focussing on ensuring the victory of the official candidate,” Utsavbhai Parikh, general secretary of the BJP Kisan Morcha in Vadodara, told PTI.
Confident of victory, he said of the 65 per cent Kshatriya voters in Vaghodia, 50 per cent are committed BJP voters.
"We will suffer 10 to 15 per cent (loss) in terms of votes due to the presence of the rebels. But we are confident of winning," Parikh said.
The BJP has also inducted Yogpal Singh Gohil, a well connected Kshatriya leader from the Congress and son of former party legislator Upendra Singh Gohil.
In 2017, Madhubhai, as Shrivastav is called in the constituency, defeated Vaghela, known as Bapu, by 10,315 votes. Vaghela then too was a BJP rebel.
Five years ago, the Congress did not field a candidate from here and left the seat for the Bharatiya Tribal party (BTP) with whom it had an alliance.
Vaghela benefited as a majority of the Kshatriya voters, a deciding factor in Vaghodia, went to him due to the Congress' absence from the poll arena.
This time might be different.
Shrivastav, who has won six times since 1995, and Vaghela have said they will be with the BJP if they win.
The BJP controls zilla and taluka panchayats and gram panchayats in Vaghodia and its leaders say the party's grassroots strength is enough to see it through the hustings.
The Congress, on its part, appears upbeat and is hoping to derive maximum advantage from the fractured poll situation.
Satyajit Gaikwad, the party’s candidate and former MP from Vadodara, said Madhu Shrivastav polled 60,000 votes in 2017 but 1.10 lakh ballots went against him.
'The Congress will cash in on the split in BJP votes and the AAP will get just around 1,500 votes this time,' he claimed.
The sense on the ground, he said, is that the constituency wants a change this time. The presence of the two rebels will hit the BJP more in his view.
"Household incomes have depleted, unemployment is on the rise and the pinch of inflation is too much for the people to bear. This angst of the people will be reflected through the ballot," Gaikwad said.
Deepak Shrivastav, Madhu Shrivastav's son and a two-time member of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, said his father is a "people's man" and is sure to emerge victorious for the seventh time.
"(Poll) symbol doesn't matter, people's work and their welfare is important for him and he will continue to do so. He stood as an independent because people wanted him to contest and they have assured him a win. They are angry as the BJP has not re-nominated him," he said.
Madhu Shrivastav's supporters point out that Vaghodia was a Congress bastion breached by him in 1995 when he contested as an independent and won.
The BJP had then invited him to join the party. Since then, the veteran legislator has worked to expand the BJP base in the constituency, they said.
Patel, a Shrivastav supporter said, is not widely known in Vaghodia, one of the Assembly segments of the Vadodara parliamentary seat and even lost the zilla panchayat election.
The party also has to tackle the disillusionment of locals, many of whom cite persisting problems such as power outages and lack of infrastructure.
"This is a taluka place but even some villages in Gujarat are better developed than Vaghodia. We have the Parul University and Muni Seva Ashram Hospital as well as the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation here, but there are security issues as CCTVs don't function and frequent power cuts leave streets dark after sunset," said a shopkeeper in his early 30s, wary about giving his name.
As the campaigning hots up, fruit vendors Shabbir and Sarfaraz Malik said the main fight will be between Patel and Madhu Shrivastav.
Mitesh Patel, a member of Vaghela's campaign team, said his man is in a better position in the 2022 polls after losing by 10,000 votes in 2017.
"We are focusing on Kshatriya votes. Bapu has varied businesses in Vadodara and provides employment to locals. Many Kshatriya community members from the BJP Yuva Morcha and Mahila Morcha are joining Bapu,' he said.
The AAP doesn't figure prominently in the electoral discourse in the constituency.
Seven candidates are in the fray in Vaghodia, located on the outskirts of Vadodara city. It is an industrial belt and a semi-urban area.
There are 2.46 lakh voters. The dominant social groups are the Kshatriyas, Patels and OBCs are dominant social groups. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Log Party are also contesting.
About 60 per cent of the population in the constituency is into farming and 40 per cent in the industrial sector.
Narayan Patel, Vaghodia taluka Congress president, said there is unrest among the poor over price rise and GST on basic items like milk and this will reflect in voting.
There are 10 Assembly seats in Vadodara district - Vaghodia, Savli, Karjan, Padra, Dabhoi (all rural areas), Raopura, Sayajiganj, Majalpur, Akota and Vadodara City (all urban segments).
Except Padra, all seats are with the BJP. PTI MR RSY VT MIN MIN MIN