BJP President Amit Shah’s strategic thinking came to the fore when he masterminded the party’s near clear sweep of Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 General Elections. Thereafter, the hockey-stick growth in the BJP’s electoral fortunes only confirmed his acumen for making the right choice of personnel and constituencies to maximise the outcomes.
Now that Shah himself decided to take the electoral plunge to become a national-level lawmaker, there is no surprise that he chose the safest constituency in the country to do so. For, Gandhinagar has never ever looked beyond the BJP ever since Shankersinh Vaghela captured more than 66% of the vote share in 1989 to wrest the seat from the Congress.
The constituency, comprising seven assembly segments, has overwhelmingly supported the BJP in all but one election since then. The exception came in the 1996 bye-election necessitated by the withdrawal of Atal Behari Vajpayee who had also won from Lucknow. The Congress nominated Bollywood star Rajesh Khanna against Vijay Patel, who managed to retain the seat for the BJP, albeit with a reduced victory margin.
During 2014, the BJP stalwart Lal Krishna Advani polled close to 70% of the votes with an additional swing of 13% coming his way due to the Narendra Modi wave. Of the 11 lakh votes polled in Gandhinagar, the BJP took more than 7.8 lakh for a comfortable win. This time round, Amit Shah’s tally should be in excess of 4-5 lakh votes even if we discount a Modi wave.
The Congress, which in the past had fielded popular personalities like Rajesh Khanna and T N Seshan, gave the responsibility this time to C J Chavda, a legislator from Gandhinagar North. He represents the Thakor community that has traditionally been a Congress bastion. Chavda is hoping to make a dent in the BJP’s support base across the five urban assembly seats.
In the 2017 state assembly elections, the Congress managed to wrest the Gandhinagar North seat from the BJP while retaining Kalol, both considered semi-rural segments. The BJP retained the seats of Ghatiodia, Vejalpur, Naranpura and Sabarmati and wrested Sanand from the Congress by a margin of 7,700 votes. The margins were far higher in the other segments ranging between 40,000 and 1.15 lakhs in favour of the BJP.
The battle may appear one-sided but Chavda left no stone unturned to counter the obvious stature of the BJP President. The Congress held several rallies in support of their candidate whose only question to his rival was, “Why are you contesting from a so-called safe seat when you are holding such an important position in national politics?”
As for Amit Shah, he is no stranger to Gandhinagar. A resident of the constituency, Shah was also the campaign manager for the then party president L K Advani during the 2009 elections when the latter was busy addressing rallies across the country for BJP candidates. Moreover, Shah has fought and won assembly polls from Sarkhej and Naranpura, both of which have been part of Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency.
The Congress did try to field someone stronger than Chavda against Amit Shah and at one point in time the name of Hardik Patel of the Patidar quota agitation fame did the rounds. Given that the constituency has the highest number of Patidars and Thakors, the Congress strategy appeared sound till the Courts poured cold water on their plans. The High Court refused to stay Hardik Patel’s conviction in a rioting case as a result of which he could not contest the elections, and the Congress was left with no other option.
Though the Congress did its bid during the campaign phase to mobilize the Patidars against the BJP, past results suggest that this community went with the BJP, which should therefore make the 2019 contest even easier than a cakewalk for Amit Shah.
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