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Gujarat elections: BJP first list of 70 names CM Rupani, Patidars and Cong rebels

BJP meeting to finalise names for the Gujarat assembly elections was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Rajnath Singh and party chief Amit Shah.

GujaratElection2017 Updated: Nov 17, 2017 20:41 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
BJP,Gujarat elections,Gujarat assembly elections 2017
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah outside the party headquarters in New Delhi where a meeting to decide the candidates for the Gujarat assembly elections was held. (Raj K Raj/HT )

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced on Friday its first list of 70 candidates for assembly elections in Gujarat, retaining most of its state heavyweights and accommodating rebels from the rival Congress.

The list belied speculation that the BJP would drop most of its sitting members of the assembly. It re-nominated 49 lawmakers, including chief minister Vijay Rupani and his deputy Nitinbhai Patel as well as many from the Patidar community.

The re-nomination of sitting Patidar legislators signalled the BJP was unwilling to change tack on the politically influential group that has lately sought to coalesce against the party under the leadership of Hardik Patel.

The list also figures five Congress rebels who sided with the BJP in this year’s presidential election as well as the Rajya Sabha polls that saw Congress leader Ahmed Patel winning narrowly. It has 16 fresh faces and just four women.

“While caste balances have been considered, above all, because of merits and performance of the MLAs and ministers, they have been continued,” deputy chief minister Patel said.

Voting to elect 182 members to the assembly will be held in two phases on December 9 and 14. The results are expected on December 18. The list includes candidates for both the phases.

The contest in Gujarat, Modi’s home state where the BJP has been in power for 22 years, will be keenly watched for signs of voter reaction to some of his radical economic policies that the opposition Congress party is trying to leverage to regain political ground.

Also, angry protests by Patidars – traditionally its supporters – demanding quotas in education and government jobs is a headache for the BJP, although most experts see the party retaining power in its citadel.

For the BJP, which has said it will win no less than 150 seats, it’s a prestige battle. The party has been extending its reach across the country, emboldened by a string of state election victories and consistently high public approval for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But with the economy still reeling from last year’s cash clampdown and the bumpy implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, the party appears to have lost, for the first time since its resounding national victory in 2014, some of its unbridled confidence.

For the Congress, the stakes have never been higher, given that a good showing in BJP’s bastion could help the party recover nationally from a raft of bruising election defeats. Over the past few months, its vice-president Rahul Gandhi has displayed a new confidence in his public speeches as well as social media campaigns that have triggered some unease in the BJP.

The elections are also a test of Gandhi’s ability to stitch political alliance in the state which is seeing the emergence of several young leaders, especially along caste lines, who oppose the BJP and whose support could be a swing factor.

The Congress has reached out to the most popular among them, Hardik Patel, as well as Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani. The party has already enlisted the support of Alpesh Thakor, who leads a section of the Other Backwards Classes (OBC) who are opposed to the Patidars’ demand for quota.

The BJP has responded with several incentives for voters in the state, including loans without interest for farmers, jobs for sanitation workers and big ticket infrastructure projects.

Of the 70 names, 17 are Patels, 18 OBCs, three Scheduled Castes and 11 Scheduled Tribals, party sources told news agency PTI. A majority of OBC candidates are Thakors followed by Kolis, the sources added.

(With agencies)

First Published: Nov 17, 2017 13:40 IST