Gujarat elections: Congress aims to turn tide in BJP’s stronghold of Gandhinagar

South Gandhinagar has historically been a stronghold of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but Himanshu Patel of the Congress aims to change that with the help of urgent problems like education, a focus on rural areas, and grumblings of discontent within the governing party about its nominee.

 “Many want to educate children in rural areas but are denied permission to set up schools. The Narmada waters have not been provided for irrigation…The corporators have not spent anything on works needed,” Patel said as he campaigned last week in the Tarapur village ahead of the second phase of Gujarat polls on Monday.

Two kilometres away from the boundary of the Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation is the town of Tarapur, which has a population of just over 2000.

Patel, who ran against Union Home Minister Amit Shah unsuccessfully in the 2002 assembly elections from Sarkhej, is relying on the BJP’s apparent indifference to rural areas like Tarapur.

In place of Shambhuji Thakor, the BJP has put Other Backward Caste leader Alpesh Thakor on the ballot. Alpesh Thakor gained notoriety by opposing the Patidar quota demand in 2015. Before the 2017 elections, Alpesh Thakor switched to the Congress and won the Radhanpur district. Prior to the 2019 presidential election, he switched parties, joining the BJP. In the by-election held in October 2019, Raghu Desai of the Congress defeated him.

Gandhinagar’s Shambhuji Thakor won in 2007, however after delimitation in 2009, the seat was split into two. Most of the population in Gandhinagar North is urban. The neighbouring villages, some of which are in the Ahmedabad district, are under the jurisdiction of the Gandhinagar South seat. The seat was kept by the BJP in the 2017 local elections.

People with knowledge of the situation claimed that a survey led the BJP to field Lavingji Thakor from Radhanpur rather than Alpesh Thakor. Additionally, posters and banners urging Alpesh Thakor to remain in Radhanpur before the BJP fielded him appeared in Gandhinagar.

Shambhuji Thakor said local party workers were opposed to the nomination of an outsider. “The people of any constituency always prefer a local representative. But it is the party’s decision. So what can we do?”

SP Thakor, a BJP functionary in Gandhinagar, said they wanted a local candidate from any community. “But the party decided against it and fielded Alpesh Thakor. So we are happy and are working hard for his win.”

In Gandhinagar South, almost 200000 of the 371598 voters reside in urban areas, while the remaining 150000 do so in rural areas. The Thakor community makes up the majority of voters in rural areas. In total, there are about 100000 Thakor, 60000 Patel, and 40000 Schedule Caste voters in this seat.

District Congress chief Arvindsinh Solanki said the Thakor community is against Alpesh Thakor and this will be clear in the election results. “We have a presence in the constituency’s 35 to 40 villages. In the earlier elections, the BJP would gain major votes from the Chandkheda and Motera regions…this time it will be different as even in these places people are backing the Congress.”

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s nominee Daulat Patel, a farmer from Motera, said the people in the constituency are fed up with the price rise. “The other problems are schools… There are inadequate schools…and irrigation. If the AAP forms the government, our priority will be to improve education and healthcare facilities. So many villages are devoid of any medical facilities. People need a change and I am sure I will win.”

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