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BJP relies on Kunvarji Bavaliya to win Jasdan; Cong hopes to maintain the support of his Koli community

Jasdan assembly constituency in Gujarat is likely to witness fierce battle with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) banking on ‘poached’ leader Kunvarji Bavaliya as Congress hopes to retain support from Koli community to which he belongs.

Bavaliya, who switched from the Congress to the BJP in 2018, retained the seat in the subsequent by-elections.

But now the six-time MLA faces a challenge from his former protégé Bholabhai Gohil, another Koli leader, who has been passed by the Congress.

Jasdan is one of the backward constituencies in Rajkot district. It will go to the polls in the first phase of the Gujarat elections on December 1.

Out of about 2.6 lakh voters, about one lakh belongs to the Koli community while about 60,000 are Patidars. Other Backward Class (OBC) communities (except the Kolis), Dalits and Muslims make up the rest.

This is considered a congressional stronghold due to its dedicated Koli vote bank, and the BJP has only won by-elections here.

Kolis are a numerically strong OBC community with a strong presence in Saurashtra and South Gujarat. The community is more concentrated in the coastal areas.

Despite not winning parliamentary elections in more than 20 years in Gujarat, the Congress has managed to garner an average of 37 percent of the vote thanks to its dedicated voters of Kshatriya-Thakor, Koli, Dalits, Muslims and Tribals.

From 1995, Bavaliya won against Jasdan four times in a row as a congressional candidate (1995, 1998, 2002 and 2007). He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2009 from the Rajkot seat.

In the mid-term poll after Bavaliya stepped down as MLA, BJP’s Bharat Boghra, a Patel leader, defeated the Congress candidate in 2009. But in 2012, Bholabhai Gohil of Congress defeated Boghra.

Bavaliya lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Rajkot to the BJP. He was once again fielded by the Congress from the Jasdan Assembly seat and recorded a comfortable victory over Boghra.

In 2017, a rift arose between Bavaliya and the leadership of the state congress. Sensing an opportunity, the BJP lured it into its lap.

He resigned as MLA and won the by-election on BJP ticket in 2018.

Thus, the ruling party has so far only managed to win Jasdan in interim polls, with Bhogra in 2009 and Bavaliya in 2018.

“It’s a very close match in Jasdan this time – neck and neck between a teacher and his student. It was Bavaliya who brought Bhola Gohil into politics,” says political analyst Suresh Samani.

It remains to be seen whether the Koli community goes along with Bavaliya or remains loyal to the Congress, he said.

“Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) drafted Tejas Gajipara, a Patel, and he is likely to make a dent in the BJP’s Patidar vote bank. So the competition has become interesting,” he added. In this predominantly agricultural dependent taluka, farmers and farm workers are concerned about price increases and unemployment.

For Raju Koli from Atkot village, underemployment and inflation are the main problems.

“Whoever comes to power should think of poor people like us. We need to get jobs, essential things like gas bottles need to be made affordable. The government needs to think about little people like us,” he said.

Ramesh Sondarva, an agricultural worker, reiterated the position saying that the people of the state should bring about a change this time.

For the BJP, it’s a bit of a gamble.

“Kolis are traditionally congressional voters. bhai, we expect some Koli voters will support BJP. We will win this seat with the support of our traditional voters and some Koli votes,” said Mansukh Ramani, general secretary of the BJP’s Rajkot district.

Congress is confident that it will win the seat as the Koli community will stick with it.

“Bholabhai Gohil has built a reputation as a down-to-earth man who works for the people. They respect him and will give their vote to him,” said Ranjit Gohil, Jasdan congress leader who is leading Gohil’s campaign.

“Although Koli’s vote will be split between Bavaliya and our candidate, we will get the maximum number of votes and win the seat,” he added.

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