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|November 18, 1998||
BJP pulls out all stops in Bharuch Lok Sabha poll
Saisuresh Sivaswamy in Bharuch
If the number of men and machines pushed into the campaign were to be the yardstick for victory at the hustings, then the Bharatiya Janata Party's Mansukhbhai Vasava has already made it to the seat in the 12th Lok Sabha that fell vacant when Chandubhai Deshmukh went to his maker. According to BJP sources, 20 ministers from the Keshubhai Patel ministry, and over 60 party legislators have already descended in the constituency since the Election Commission notified the poll process.
The BJP has reason to be worried.
A Congress bastion till 1984 -- Ahmed Patel representing the seat in 1980 and 1984 -- in 1989 Chandubhai managed to wrest the seat for the BJP for the first time, securing a respectable 57.7 per cent of the vote. Patel it was who came second the next two times, before taking the safe route to the Rajya Sabha. In February 1998, when Deshmukh retained the seat for the fourth consecutive time, he only got 33.5 per cent of the vote, his victory margin being a pipsqueak 11,609 votes.
In other words, this is a safe seat going bad before the BJP's eyes, and in an era of microchip-sum majority, the party is doing everything to stem the tide. Shirish Bengali, a director with the Gujarat Narmada Fertiliser Corporation, who handles the media for the BJP in this Adivasi-dominated constituency, sounds the reveille. "This time we will add another zero to 11,000, our February margin," he says.
Thus it is, that half of Gandhinagar, the administrative HQ, has descended on this blighted constituency. Helping out is the entire phalanx of the BJP's cadres, who reach out to the population daily and report back with the feedback. This is an interesting constituency, some 33 per cent of the voters are Adivasi, 18 per cent Muslim, 22.5 per cent OBC and 11 per cent Patels. Both the BJP and the Janata Dal have fielded wellknown tribal leaders, Mansukhbhai Vasava and Chhotubhai Vasava (not related to each other).
Mansukhbhai contested the 1998 assembly election from Rajpipla unsuccessfully, the other Vasava becoming a legislator from Jhanadia even while losing the general election. Of the seven assembly segments in Bharuch, the BJP won four, the Congress won two and JD one.
What is worrying the BJP more is Shankarsinh Vaghela's Rashtriya Janata Party, which won a respectable 51,364 votes in February supporting Chhotubhai. However, the BJP is not counting on bigwigs from Delhi to bail it out this time. Only two "names" have been here to canvass for votes -- Vinod Khanna, the Hindi film star and party MP from Gurdaspur, Punjab, and Union minister and former state party chief Kashiram Rana.
The Congress in contrast, appears to have thrown in the towel, at least judging by its ennui in Bharuch proper. Agrees its office-bearer, Amar Singh Raj, "They have power, and hence, the resources. They are also a lot more visible in the city, given their urban base. In the countryside you will see our presence."
The party is right now depending on its candidate's appeal, and that of its strongman Ahmed Patel who has been campaigning here.
"Why do we need an issue when the BJP itself has given its price rise?" asks Dhirajbhai Parmar. Only half in jest. A Chhotubhai supporter, Parmar rattles off the morning's price for potato and onion -- Rs 15 and Rs 30 per kg respectively. Oh, the same as in Mumbai, you tell yourself in relief, before realising the disparity in purchasing power in the two cities. "I am sick and tired of this. Let me ask them, is the price rise a result of only the last six months of rule, or is it the cumulative carryforward from previous regimes," asks Arvind Godhani, a senior BJP official.
But it is clear the party has been forced on the backfoot over this single issue, a feat that no Jaya's tantrums or Mamata's mood swings could achieve.
Assembly-wise break-up of Bharuch in the February 1998 poll:
Jambusar -- BJP: 39,239; Congress: 31,251; JD: 1,614; RJP: 8211.
Vagira -- BJP: 26,023; Congress: 45,467; JD: 3,074; RJP: 12,958.
Bharuch -- BJP: 49,769; Congress: 40,960; JD: 7,422; RJP: 5,147.
Ankleshwar -- BJP: 44,541; Congress: 34,082; JD: 11,565; RJP: 7,428.
Jaghadia -- BJP: 15,812; Congress: 28,831; JD: 40,993; RJP: 2,506.
Dediapada -- BJP: 23,880; Congress: 12,416; JD: 47,848; RJP: 9,838.
Mangrel -- BJP 23,707; Congress: 22,156, JD: 33,320; RJP: 5,278.
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