The race is on: Gujarat's new politicians fight for party tickets

Mahesh Langa

Ahmedabad, Oct. 30 -- As political parties in Gujarat start finalising their candidates for 182 Assembly seats, they are grappling to make the right choice for the right seat based on social and demographic considerations. Making a selection isn't easy, as there are over 2,500 serious contenders in the fray.

It's astounding to see the huge rise in the number of people seeking to join electoral politics, making it competitive. The BJP and the Congress, the state's two main political parties, have more than 1,500 contenders staking their claim for a party ticket. Surprisingly, over 30% of these serious contenders are not active, full-time politicians.

Puzzled at the "mad rush" of these ticket seekers, I asked a senior BJP leader involved in selecting candidates for answers. "Never in the past there has been such mad rush for party tickets in the assembly polls in the state," he said. "Balancing caste equations while choosing candidates has indeed become a daunting task."

"For every seat, we have at least 10 serious contenders to choose from and most of the contenders are very ambitious, well-heeled and run their own businesses. Many of them are self-made, first-generation businessmen and entrepreneurs."

In last decade, booming economy and rapid industrialisation and urbanization has thrown many new millionaires who became rich overnight and now want social recognition which they believe a stint in politics can help achieve.

For example, the BJP had in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls fielded Kiran Patel from Rajkot where his family has business interests ranging from cinema, construction, education and realty. He was not even a formal member of the BJP when he got the party's mandate to contest parliamentary polls. He eventually lost.

Another example is Natuji Halaji Thakor, whom the BJP nominated to the Rajya Sabha from a few years back. Thakor is a wealthy diamond trader in Surat and wanted social recognition by joining politics. Like Patel, he too was not a formal member of the BJP at the time of his nomination.

"In the last few years, some people made huge money in fields like realty, construction and transport. They are hard working, prosperous and now want social recognition. It is that they look for in politics. They don't want to take the traditional route of joining politics and rising from ward level to district and state level. Their ambition is to directly enter (politics) at the state level," said a retired bureaucrat who has been an observer of Gujarat politics for four decades.

This could be precisely the reason why persons like Balwantsinh Rajput, who owns Gokul Refoils and Solvent Ltd (Gujarat's second largest edible oil producer), Ram Mokaria, who owns Maruti Courier Company, which has 1,400 courier outlets spread in 23 states, Narendra Somani, owner of Bhagwati Banquets and Hotels Ltd (BBHL), a leading group in hospitality sector in Gujarat, are seeking to contest polls and enter politics.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.