After trying a broad spectrum of candidates from former Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan to former Director General of Police P.K. Datta, the Congress seems to have got the right person to challenge L.K. Advani in Gandhinagar.
The party, which so far was putting up a token fight against Advani in this constituency, has finally put up Suresh Patel (58), the sitting MLA from Kalol. And Patel is making the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate sweat it out in the blazing Gujarat heat.
A local strongman from the Patel community, the Congress nominee is serving his third term as MLA and has considerable influence in Kalol and its surroundings. Kalol along with Sanand, where the Tata Nano factory is coming up, are now part of Gandhinagar constituency after delimitation.
While the BJP has to try hard to gain support in the rural areas, what is bothering the party is the large presence of Patel votes in the constituency — which the Congress candidate can wean away.
Working towards that goal, about 250 Patel NRIs have descended from the US and are going around the constituency campaigning for Suresh and assuring all help to the entrepreneurial Gujaratis in realising their dreams.
Patel’s family itself is settled in the US. While four brothers are US citizens, Suresh holds a green card. The family is into construction, hospitality, gas stations where, except a few, all employees are Gujarati. Suresh’s brother Hasmukh Patel and his family have been canvassing for him here from the past 45 days.
“I like Modi for his work but I would like to vote for Suresh Patel as he can help me in future,” said Snehal Patel (22), who is pursuing an MBA diploma and runs a business in Ahmedabad.
Independent Mallika Sarabhai is not expected to get more than a few thousand votes. Though the going might be tough for Advani this time, he has his supporters. “Being Leader of the Opposition, he might not spend time in his constituency but he is getting things done through his men here,” said local resident Himmatlal (56).
Understandably, the BJPs PM hopeful is not taking it easy. Even after an assurance from Chief Minister Narendra Modi that he need come only on the voting day, Advani spent the last three days in the constituency holding road shows and addressing public rallies.