Rajkot, Dec 8: As the dissidence factor threatens to spoil the party for the BJP in Saurashtra, Gujarat Finance Minister and five-time MLA Vajubhai Vala from the Rajkot-II constituency may find the going tough this time, even though he is facing a familiar opponent, whom he has defeated in three earlier encounters.
The Congress has fielded Kasmiraben Nathwani, against Mr Vala for the third time in a row (once she had fought on a RJP ticket) and in each election, she has reduced her opponent's victory margin. In 2002, even when the BJP was riding on a Hindutva wave, the victory margin was less than 10,000 votes.
She is a daughter of Chimanbhai Shukla, a prominent leader of the erstwhile Jan Sangh. Her father who left the BJP ten years ago, alongwith Shankersinh Vaghela (now the Union Textiles Minister), is now back in the party-fold but not involved in the active campaigning.
While Kashmiraben asserts that she has a better chance of winning this time, as Vala has never been here for the people, Vala, who is popularly known as the 'Paniwala Mayor' (for playing an important role in bringing water to the region from various dams during the 1986 drought), shrugs off suggestions that a serious challenge is at hand.
He is not taking any chances, though. He stays rooted in the constituency, vigourously campaigning door to door, attending public and booth meetings in wards.
He says the business community was happy as the BJP Government abolished the octroi. Farmers are earning more and have become wealthier under the BJP regime. No new taxes have been imposed on the public and people of Gujarat living without any fear of terror attacks, he claims.
Countering him, Kashmiraben points out that the government has not abolished the 'octroi' but put into 'zero' level, which means ''they can introduce octori again if they voted back to power.'' Accusing Vala of neglecting Rajkot's development, she alleges that the BJP government did little for the region, especially with regard to roads, water and power. Several areas are facing water problems till today, due to faulty water distribution system, she adds.
Kashmira Nathwani who is at present the general secretary of Gujarat Congress Committee, claims that the caste factor which plays an important role in the elections, will give her a favourable tilt. She belongs to 'Lohana' community, of which there are around 30,000 voters in this constituency. She also claims support of the 16000 Brahmin voters, as before marriage, she was a brahmin. Plus, the 30,000 Muslim voters who favour the party will make the difference, she predicts.
Vala, who was the mayor of Rajkot in 1983 and made his debut in the Assembly two years later, counts on his experience and laurels to counter his opponent. He holds the record of presenting the Budget 12 times in the Assembly as the Finance Minister of the state.
During the 1986 drought in Gujarat, regions like Saurashtra and Rajkot were the worst affected. He had played a major role during that crisis and made arrangements of water for Rajkot city from various dams and even arranged transport of water by trains to Rajkot city and surrounding areas to ease the drinking water problems. Since then he has come to be known as 'Paniwala' Mayor.
He had vacated his Assembly seat in 2001 for Chief Minister Narendra Modi, to contest a byelection.
Vala has held various portfolios since 1990 such as Energy, Petrochemicals, Finance and Revenue and Urban Development.
Rubbishing Congress allegations of corruption to the tune of Rs 19,000 crore in power deals as ''baseless'', Vala says that party was spreading such insinuations as it had no issues. ''Only removal of Chief Minister Narendra Modi was on its agenda,'' he says.
Apart from the Congress and the BJP, there are five more contestants in the fray from this constituency. BSP's Jasmin Panchmiya, Jagdish Kothari, Shiv Sena, Ilaben Parmar of the Akhil Bharatiya Ramrajya Parishad, Narendrabhai Amrutbhai of National Security Party and Vahidaben Haroonbhai, an Independent, are locking horns for the December 11 contest.
Of the 1,70,685 electorate, 84,510 are women. There are 167 polling booths of which 69 booths have been declared as sensitive.
Elaborate securty arrangements have been made to ensure free and fair elections, officials said.