Gujarat polls, phase 2: Congress, Patidar hubs come into play. Tough fight for Hardik, Alpesh, Jignesh

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Gujarat polls, phase 2: Congress, Patidar hubs come into play. Tough fight for Hardik, Alpesh, Jignesh

North Gujarat is the Congress' traditional stronghold and the party has conceded 7 seats to candidates of newly-inducted leader Alpesh Thakor's choice.

With a high-pitch battle where Pappu turned Aurangzeb and Ram Mandir became the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) poll issue after 24 years, Gujarat witnessed a campaign that brought out a lot more than one had ever imagined. The high-octane campaigning finally ended today evening.

It was a campaign where the Congress unapologetically shrugged off the 'secular' pro-Muslim tag to don soft the Hindutva tag and where reservation returned as a poll issue. It is also where the BJP battled anti-incumbency by landing the PM on an amphibian in the Sabarmati river as a showcase of 'vikas' (development).

Ninety three seats of central and north Gujarat are going to polls on December 14 in which urban areas of Ahmedabad and Vadodara will cast their vote. Politicos consider 54 of the 93 seats going to polls as rural, while a huge chunk of 39 are urban - the BJP's core vote-bank. Sixteen of these seats are of Ahmedabad city, of which 14 are with BJP.

North Gujarat is the Congress' traditional stronghold and also an area which is majorly dominated by the OBC (Other Backward Class). OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, newly-inducted in Congress, is expected to benefit the grand old party.

According to sources, Congress has conceded seven seats to candidates of Alpesh's choice. Conceding to Thakor is fraught with risk as it alienates Congress' long-time loyal workers. It remains to be seen whether Thakor will be able to consolidate OBC voters and keep the party workforce together.

In its urban strongholds, especially in north Gujarat and Ahmedabad, BJP faces a challenge because of Hardik Patel's movement against the saffron party. This is an area where the movement germinated in the first place and also witnessed violence in 2015. Mehsana has also seen a huge outpouring of the Patel angst, leading to several attacks on BJP leaders. Mehsana is the constituency of deputy chief minister Nitin Patel.

Urban seats of Ahmedabad city including Nikol and Bapunagar have become a steep task for BJP to win, again owing to the Patidar movement. However, one might like to see the apparent challenge with a pinch of salt as the urban areas are less likely to heed to Hardik's anti-BJP clarion call as these areas have benefited from the development.

The key candidates to watch out for in this phase are Nitin Patel from Mehsana, Alpesh Thakor from Radhanpur, Jignesh Mevani from Vadgam and Congress Siddharth Patel from Dabhoi. It would also be interesting to look at how the BJP fares in Sanand, Viramgam and Becharaji seats - all models of Modi's industrialisation in the last 10 years. Interestingly, BJP had lost all these three seats in 2012.

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