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Sarkhej win is a big boost for Gujarat BJP - The Times of India

Ashraf Sayed ()
13 February 1997

Title : Sarkhej win is a big boost for Gujarat BJP
Author : Ashraf Sayed
Publication : The Times of India
Date : February 13, 1997

The Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) may be out of power in Gujarat but
it certainly is not down as has been convincingly proved in the
Sarkhej assembly by-election where its nominee Amit Shah won by a
huge margin.

Politically, the BJP will naturally receive a shot in the arm on
the eve of the budget session of the state assembly beginning front
February 19. Many fence-sitters, including dissident legislators
and members of district and taluka panchayats, may start
reconsidering their options as defeat of the BJP in its most secure
seat would have certainly led to a mass exodus from its rank and
file. For the time being at least, the BJP may be able to avoid
that possibility now.

It is also now a fact that despite joint campaigning launched by
the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Party to shatter its citadel,
the BJP has established that though it had lost power owing to
internal dissensions and group warfare, the ground reality is
different. "The people are with us but power is with our rivals is
the message of the Sarkhej by-election," remarked a senior leader
of the BJP.

On the face of it, it was a straight contest between the Congress
and the BJP. It is now a known fact that the RJP has not only
extended its full support to Congress candidate Dinesh Thakore but
has also sponsored a BJP rebel candidate and vice-president of the
Ahmedabad district panchayat Mafatlal Patel to cut into- the base
of the BJP. But all its efforts have come to naught.

The defeat of the Congress maybe insignificant because it would not
change political equations in the state assembly but it will
deliver a shattering blow to the Mahagujarat Janata Party ministry,
headed by Shankersinh Waghela, which had yet not been able to find
itself firmly in the saddle despite being in power for nearly four

The power-oriented politics pursued by the chief minister may have
paid rich dividends to him by way of winning over legislators as
well as taluka and district panchayat members but by-elections in
the last four months had proved beyond doubt that the RJP has yet
to find firm footings among electorate.

While the BJP did not contest the last Lok Sabha by-election from
the prestigious Gandhinagar seat to make a way for a straight fight
between the Congress candidate and film star Rajesh Khanna and BJP
nominee Vijay Patel, a little known politically novice, it lost
badly two assembly by-elections in Nadiad in central Gujarat and
Dharampur in the tribal district of Bulsar.

Now the chief minister himself is preparing to make a maiden entry
into the state assembly from the Radhanpur constituency in one of
the most backward districts of Banaskantha which is bordering
Pakistan. Though caste factor and political equations are heavily
tilted in favour of Mr Waghela, the BJP will not leave any stone
unturned to turn the tables against the chief minister as it would
be the most prestigious fight to be witnessed in recent past.

There are more than one reasons for Mr Waghela to be worried about
his electoral prospects. First and foremost is the hostile attitude
adopted by former speaker of the state assembly Himatlal Mulani,
who is bent upon re-seeking election from his home turf.

Second, BJP's candidate Mamabhai Chaudhary had lost by only 30O
votes in a keenly contested election against an independent
Lavingjj Thakore, who was backed by dissident congress leaders,
mostly belonging to the Madhavsinh Solanki camp. Now Mr Chaudhary
and Mr Thakore have thrown their lot with Mr Waghela, it is not
going to be a smooth sailing for the chief minister as the BJP is
likely to deploy its entire force to defeat its arch enemy.

Already, many senior RJP leaders have started questioning the
advisability of the chief minister selecting a widespread
constituency which will be facing one of the worst droughts and
acute shortage of drinking water this year. A large-scale migration
to neighbouring district is already an annual phenomenon and this
summer will virtually witness the exodus from the constituency.

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