It would be a tough call for Congress leader Paresh Dhanani to win for the fourth time against the Amreli assembly constituency in next month’s elections in Gujarat, especially now that the Patidar quota agitation has died down.
The former opposition leader in the Assembly also faces the challenge of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is expected to eat up the traditional congressional vote banks.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has ousted district unit chief Kaushik Vekariya, while the AAP has issued a ticket to Ravi Dhanani.
All three – Dhanani and his two rivals – belong to the Patidar community. Patidar voters account for more than half of the electorate in the constituency.
As you enter Amreli, you will see large billboards of Paresh Dhanani on every main road, advertising the work he has done for the constituency.
His supporters say he would have become prime minister had Congress won a majority in 2017. The opposition party had come close to a majority in 2017, but was unable to achieve it.
“This election is a battle between arrogant rulers and the people of Gujarat. Amreli has always shown the way to Gujarat, and this time they will also elect me and call for change after 27 years of BJP misrule,” Dhanani said.
“As a result of this misgovernment, Gujarat is plagued by economic slowdown, inflation, unemployment, corruption, drug mafia and land mafia. This election is an opportunity for those whose voices have been silenced by the BJP to oust the BJP government,” he added.
His supporters believe that Dhanani’s connection to the people and work on the ground has made him a force to be reckoned with, even though this region is a BJP stronghold.
Elsewhere, 20 km from the town of Amreli, in the rural area, the BJP’s Vekariya was received by young girls from Nani Kukavav village at its second election rally of the day. He would speak two more times before the day was over.
He went around the village, interacting with people while his supporters beat the drums.
“When people from Amreli go to the MLA (Paresh Dhanani) for work, he says he cannot do their job because he has no say in the current government. As the chairman of the district unit, I can now get your work done, and after becoming an MLA, it would be even easier for me to develop the district,” he said.
Speaking to PTI, Vekariya said, “Dhanani has not done any work in the constituency and has blamed the government. On the other hand, he has put up big billboards stating that he has done many things for Amreli. He tries to take credit for state and central government programs. People are tired of him.” The AAP is not an influential factor in Amreli and that will become clear on election day, he claimed.
AAP candidate Ravi Dhanani was busy with a door-to-door campaign in Amreli town.
“I am the son of a farmer. This is a district of farmers and people related to the agricultural industry. The farming community is tired of this government and wants change,” he said.
“People, especially the youth, will drive the change,” the AAP candidate added.
Local journalist Vijay Chauhan, who runs a newspaper, said Paresh Dhanani has to do his job this time.
“The effect of the Patidar quota issue does not exist this time. It was once a very big factor. Also, the AAP is another player that will grab some votes and likely hurt Congress even more.
“Young people, especially the youth working in Surat, have a liking for AAP as a new party,” he said.
The Amreli Assembly constituency has been a rocking chair.
In 2002, thanks to internal struggles within the BJP, Paresh Dhanani, who was only 26 at the time, won the seat despite a major wave in favor of Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
The Patidar community was unhappy after the unceremonious removal of Keshubhai Patel as prime minister in 2001. Patel was replaced by Modi.
But in 2007, Dhanani lost to Dileep Sanghani of the BJP.
The congressional leader yanked the seat back in 2012 when the Patel community once again felt they were being sidelined and should support Congress’s Patidar candidates.
After that, Dhanani’s political star rose and his followers even put him forward as the prime ministerial candidate for the 2017 elections, which were held against the backdrop of the Patidar quota agitation.
He defeated former minister Bavku Undhad in the elections and subsequently became Leader of the Opposition in the General Assembly.
But the political scene has changed since 2017, when the BJP government gave a 10 percent quota for economically backward class among the upper castes; made Bhupendra Patel, a Patidar, the chief minister; and won quota agitation leader Hardik Patel to his side.
For the BJP, it is a matter of prestige to win the Amreli seat. The party had lost all five assembly seats in the Amreli district in 2017.
“BJP leaders from Amreli like Purshottam Rupala (Union Agriculture Minister), (MP) Naran Kachadiya and I have decided to come together and work hard for party victory in Amreli seat,” said Dileep Sanghani, former MP who defeated Paresh Dhanani in 2007.
“Dhanani has lost his credibility and the people of Amreli are laughing at him for not being able to do any work in the constituency,” he added.
In addition to over 50 percent Patidar voters, the constituency has 15 percent Koli population that falls into the OBC category. Upper castes, Dalits and Muslims make up the rest.
Apart from the town of Amreli, the constituency is mostly rural. During the last election, the constituency had 2.68 lakh registered voters, of whom 63.33 percent cast their votes.
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