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Gujarat elections: Cautious Congress hopes to improve its 2012 tally in second phase of polling

This is for the first time since 1995 that the Congress is looking at its best chance yet to wrest Gujarat from the BJP.

assembly elections Updated: Dec 14, 2017 10:39 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Gujarat elections,Gujarat elections 2017,Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi being presented model of a plough by his supporters during a public meeting in Amreli, Gujarat.(PTI File Photo)

The Congress is hoping that its strategy of striking a fine balance between Patidars and Thakors, who come under the Other Backward Class, will work in Thursday’ssecond phase of polling in 93 constituencies in the crucial Gujarat assembly elections.

The party had taken a cautious approach as far as the reservation issue is concerned given that two communities are in almost equal numbers in north and central Gujarat. While Patidars are demanding reservation in education and jobs within the constitutional framework, the OBCs are against any move to tamper with the existing quota limit of 49%.

In the past two decades, Patidars have overwhelmingly voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while the OBC votes got divided between the Congress and the ruling party.

Of the 93 seats going to polls on Thursday, 61 are in central Gujarat and 32 in north Gujarat. The BJP had won 52 in the 2012 assembly elections and the Congress 39. The ruling party is strong in urban areas given that it holds 21 of the 23 seats that fall in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Gandhinagar municipal corporations.

North Gujarat may decide fate of the grand old party
Cong has been trying to bring opposing communities together while BJP looks to minimise losses in the region
PHASE 2, December 14: 93 seats in 14 districts
*Since 2012 polls, five Congress MLAs switched over to BJP, three of them will be contesting on the lotus symbol this year
**After 2012, Himmatnagar’s sitting Congress MLA joined BJP and won 2014 by polls

The test of the popularity of the three young leaders – Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani – will be put to test in the second phase. Mehsana, the epicentre of the Patidar agitation led by Hardik, and Patan which has a sizeable number of Thakors, will be crucial for both the parties. Mevani too hails from Mehsana.

For its part, the Congress is upbeat over its performance in the first phase of polling in 89 constituencies, a majority of which are in Saurashtra and Kutch. Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma claimed that his party will win 45-50 seats in the first phase.

But the worry for the Congress is the tribal belt where the BJP has worked hard this time. The ruling party is banking on the support of tribals to make up for the losses it might suffer due to the Patidars’ angst. The Congress, on its part, is hoping that its traditional vote base will remain intact.

Former prime minister and Congress leader Manmohan Singh and Ashok Gehlot address a press conference in Surat. (PTI File Photo)

This is for the first time since 1995 that the Congress is looking at its best chance yet to wrest Gujarat from the BJP.

At stake for the Congress is a crucial momentum that it needs ahead of other state elections in 2018 and the general election in 2019.

A win in Gujarat will not only cement the position of Rahul Gandhi but also boost the Congress’s chances of retaining Karnataka — where elections are due in March-April — and ousting its arch-rival from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan later in the year.

As part of its strategy, the Congress has not declared its chief ministerial candidate and party leaders suggest this works to their advantage and checks factionalism.

But, importantly, there is also the lack of a credible face in Gujarat for the Congress, which has leaders like Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab and Virbhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh. The campaigning, largely, has been around Gandhi.

Gandhi has campaigned extensively in Gujarat, taking on the BJP over issues such as the note ban, goods and services tax (GST), job losses, farm distress and its development model. He even coined the phrase “Gabbar Singh Tax” for GST in one of his election rallies.

But as the polling date drew near, the campaign narrative shifted to Gandhi’s temple visits, Ram Mandir issue and political mud-slinging.

The counting of votes will take place on December 18.

First Published: Dec 14, 2017 10:37 IST