The Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat is hoping to make a clean sweep in the Dalit and tribal-dominated Sabarkantha district comprising four Assembly constituencies even as unemployment has become a major issue that the ruling party hopes to negate with Hindutva and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's charisma.
The Congress is hopeful of improving its tally from the single seat it had won last time and is carrying out a silent campaign in the rural areas of the district.
Although the Aam Aadmi Party is in the fray in the district, apart from the Khedbrahma seat, it is not a factor in the remaining three, whereas independents from Congress and the BJP might play a spoilsport for both the parties in two seats.
Sabarkantha, which goes to polls in the second phase on December 5, comprises Himatnagar, Idar, Khedbrahma and Prantij assembly segments.
Except for Khedbrahma, known as a Congress bastion, the saffron camp had won the remaining three in 2017.
The district has around 11 lakh voters spread across, of whom Scheduled Tribes comprise 30 per cent.
The Scheduled Caste community accounts for 20 per cent of the total electorate, Muslims around two per cent, Patels 10 per cent, while the remaining include Kshatriya, Rajput, Koli, Brahmins and other communities.
Nearly 85 per cent of the voters live in rural areas, and the district's economy revolves around agriculture, small business, the ceramics industry in Himatnagar and milk processing.
Although SCs, Kshatriyas, Brahmins, and Rajputs have been the committed voters of the saffron camp for the last two decades, a large section of the influential Patidar community, which was with the BJP till 2012, went against the saffron camp following the quota agitation.
The Congress has been the first choice of the STs in the district, the Koli community, and minorities.
As unemployment has emerged as a major issue in the district, the BJP is banking on Hindutva and Modi factor and wooing voters with promises of setting up industries.
"We are confident of making a clean sweep this time. People here identify themselves with our ideology, and PM Modi has a huge following here, just like any other part of the state. We have promised to set up big manufacturing units in the area, so youths don't have to go anywhere else," BJP leader Vijay Pandya said.
Sabarkantha district, which also bore the brunt of the 2002 post-Godhra riots, has a strong support base of the BJP among Dalits and other communities.
Some of the 'kar sevaks', who died in the Godhra train burning incident, were from the district. However, tribals here have been divided between Congress and the BJP.
The minorities' are a minuscule population who migrated to other areas after the riots in the district.
The tribals of Khedbrahma have been committed voters of the Congress for the last several elections, whereas in Idar and other constituencies, it votes for the BJP.
"As long as BJP is here, the Hindus are safe in the district. Sabarkantha is an example of how strong the brotherhood of Hindutva ideology can be," said a BJP leader, who did not wish to be named.
Another major stumbling block for the saffron camp in this district is infighting and resentment among workers over the selection of candidates.
In Khedbrahma, the BJP that has been yearning to win, inducted three-term Congress MLA Ashvin Kotwal into the party and gave him a ticket from the constituency, thus angering a section of ticket aspirants and old-timers in the party.
This seat has the highest concentration of tribals in the area and is reserved for the Scheduled Tribes (ST) community. The AAP might be a factor in the seat as it has put up a local tribal leader as its candidate.
In Idar seat, a stronghold of BJP since the nineties, the party has given a ticket to its former MLA Ramanlal Vora, replacing its sitting MLA and actor Hitu Kanodia.
Vora is the tallest Dalit leader of the party in the district.
The community is visibly upset with the performance of the BJP in the area and the Congress hopes to work on it with the help of the Patel community.
"The BJP MLA has done nothing for us. Earlier it was Voraji, then Hitu Kanodia. The constituency faces an issue of unemployment and inflation," said Veljibhai Parmar, a resident of the Ider constituency.
In Himatnagar, the BJP has dropped its sitting MLA and given the ticket to a party old-timer Virendrasinh Zala.
In this seat, Congress has pitted Kamlesh Kumar Patel.
Apart from resentment over the selection of the candidate, the trend of the seat changing hands alternatively for the last few elections, except in 2014 bypolls, when Congress MLA who switched over to the saffron camp won on a BJP ticket, is a cause of worry for the BP.
Just like the entire state, the Congress in Sabarkantha is also carrying out a silent campaign by reaching out to the masses in the region, trying to encash anti-incumbency against the BJP and with the promise of job creation for the youths in the region.
"The BJP has done nothing to create jobs in the district. Most youths travel to other parts of the state or country for employment. The BJP's campaign of Hindutva and Narendra Modi magic won't work this time," district Congress President Suresh Patel said.
In the 2019 national elections, the BJP won the Sabarkantha Lok Sabha seat, which it has been winning since 2009, by pocketing more than 57 per cent of the total votes polled, whereas the Congress bagged just 35 per cent of the votes polled.
The Sabarkantha Lok Sabha seat was thrice represented by Gulzarlal Nanda, who twice became interim prime minister.
While the first phase of the Assembly polls was conducted on December 1, the second phase will be held on December 5.
The votes will be counted on December 8.