Gujarat polls: Vaghela on thin ice in Kshatriya bastion

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Shankar Singh Vaghela
Kapadwanj (Guj) Dec 16: Shankar Singh Vaghela, once BJP's satrap in Gujarat and now Congress' campaign spearhead, is locked in a keen contest here with a BJP candidate who threatens to thwart his electoral bid by splitting the Kshatriya votes, bedrock of his political strength.

In the assembly seat both ruling BJP and challenger Congress claim as "safe", Vaghela, a former chief minister and five-time Lok Sabha MP, twice from Kapadwanj, is engaged in a straight battle with BJP's Kanubhai Dabhi, also a Kshatriya, in a field of 10. Congress is aiming to stage a comeback after being out of power for 22 years in the state.

Though former BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) and JD(U) have also set up their nominees, poll watchers do not give them even an outside chance of winning. Kapadwanj assembly seat has an electorate of little over 2.42 lakh of whom OBC Kshatriyas, accounting for about 1.3 lakh votes, can make or mar the electoral fate of candidates.

This segment, which had backed Vaghela to the hilt in Parliamentary polls, looks all set to get divided as BJP nominee belongs to the community while Vaghela is a 'Durbar' (upper caste) Kshatriya. Dabhi is a sitting MLA from adjoining Kathlal seat and wields considerable influence over the voters of his community in the area.

Prosperous and politically powerful Patels, who have around 26,000 votes, have been traditionally voting for BJP and had not backed sitting Congress MLA from Kapadwanj, Manibhai Patel, who had won with the support of OBC Kshatriyas. Though they had not voted for Manibhai, there is resentment in the Patel community over denial of ticket to him. 

Manibhai himself, however, says he is not hurt and is the chief manager of Vaghela's campaign. "Vaghela is too big in stature for his BJP challenger to defeat him," he told PTI seated in his party's election office at a fuel station on Kathlal-Nadiad road.

"You take it from me, this is an A plus seat for the Congress and Vaghela is sure to win from here," Manibhai said. "Kshatriya votes will definite split, but still most will plump for Vaghela," he said, adding 24,000 Muslim and 18,000 dalit votes would also go to the party.

However, Bipinbbhai Patel, a businessman, feels the OBC Kshatriya electorate will decisively vote for Dabhi in the seat where BJP also controls the municipal body. Besides, he said, the good work done by the Modi government will also stand the BJP candidate in good stead.

"Ginning mills, oil factories, dairy farming and food processing industry have prospered under Modi. Water availability, electricity has improved and today more than 90 per cent of the villages in Kapadwanj constituency and taluka are connected with pucca roads," said Prashant Dani, a businessman.

Bharghav Bhatt, a lecturer, concurs with Dani. "what Congress governments could not do in decades, Modi did in years. 70 per cent of agricultural land is covered by the Narmada canal system," he said.

Traditional BJP voters, including Patels, Banias and Brahmins have also not forgiven Vaghela for splitting the party in 1997 and forming his own Rashtriya Janata Party government with Congress support before formally joining it and becoming Union Textiles Minister. They also blame him for doing nothing for the growth of ginning industry in this cotton growing belt.

PTI

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