FOR THE first time in electoral history of Gujarat, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has emerged as a main challenger to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the 16 seats of Thangadh taluka panchayat in Surendranagar district, which will go to polls on February 28. The BSP has already won one seat uncontested with its leaders claiming that it has proved to be better than the Congress, the main opposition in the state.
The BSP had fielded candidates on four seats of Thangadh, but one of them, Mulubhai Jograna, withdrew his nomination papers from Rupavati (Sarodi) seat, leaving the party in the fray from Navagam (Than), Sarodi and Sarsana seats.
Despite its candidate contesting from only three seats, the BSP emerged as the only nationally recognised party left in the contest to challenge the ruling BJP after nomination papers of the Congress candidates were rejected for failing to submit party mandate forms on time.
In fact, Jaypalkumar Rot, the BSP candidate from Sarsana seat was declared winner uncontested after no one challenged his candidacy. Sarsana seat is reserved for scheduled tribes (ST) this election.
On the other hand, Yuvraj Vala and Vasantben Dabhi are facing BJP candidates from Navanagar (Than) and Sarodi seats. While one independent candidate is also in contention from Navagam (Than) seat, making it a three-way fight, in Sarodi it will be a dual between Dabhi and BJP’s Kiran Taviya.
In the 2015 election, the BJP had won eight out total 16 seats while Congress had won five. Two seats were won by Independents while Vijayliya seat, which was reserved for STs, had remained vacant after no one registered their candidature from there. In the subsequent bypolls too, no one filed nomination papers and eventually, Vijaliya had no representation for five years even as the BJP ruled the taluka panchayat with the help of Independents.
This election, the BJP has won on six seats — Morthala, Jamwadi, Khakhrathal, Khakhravali, Nalkhambha and Songadh — uncontested, thereby getting an early advantage. However, the BSP leaders say people should see symbolism in the battle. “Congress, in connivance with the BJP, did not field its candidate and withdrew them from the race. But our candidates have stood their ground and are fighting it out despite threats. This shows, the BSP is more reliable than Congress, the so-called main opposition party in Gujarat,” Ashok Chavda, president of the Gujarat unit of the BSP, told The Indian Express.
Shailesh Solanki, president of Surendranagr district unit of the BSP said the party is contesting on a total 46 seats of districts and taluka panchayats in Surendrangar district. “But we could field candidates in only four seats of Thangadh taluka panchayat as our party organisation is not very strong yet. However, we are giving a tough fight to the BJP,” said Solanki.
Jagdish Makwana, president of Surendranagar district unit of the BJP said it was a novelty for them to be drawn in two-way contest with BSP. “We have a new rival in Thangadh but we are confident of winning that taluka panchayat. The party has done a lot of work in the field of roads, provision of drinking water, supplying farmers electricity during daytime, etc. We are seeking votes in names of development everywhere and BSP being our main rival in Thangah doesn’t change it there also,” Makwana said.
Interestingly, Rot, who is pursuing a nursing degree, was actually chosen by the BJP as its candidate for the seat reserved for the STs but abandoned him later and the BSP seized the opportunity and declared him its official candidate. “We had chosen this young man but that led to a lot of dissatisfaction among voters of Sarsana and Abhepara, the twin villages which make up Sarsana taluka panchayat seat. Their main grievance was that Rot is not a native of Thangadh. He is here because his father is a teacher here, otherwise he is a tribal from north Gujarat and, therefore, he was not the ideal candidate to represent voters here. Therefore, as demanded by voters, we later withdrew support to Rot’s candidature. But BSP gave him a ticket and he won uncontested and we don’t mind that,” a BJP functionary told The Indian Express on the condition of anonymity.
Polling for the remaining nine seats of Thangadh taluka panchayat is to be conducted on February 28 and counting of votes will be held on March 2. On the nine seats, eight candidates of BJP, two of BSP and six Independents are also in the fray.