A new front to take on Modi

A new front to take on Modi

In a state where electoral battles have largely hinged on a two-party system, the likely emergence of a third party in the run up to the Gujarat Assembly elections, scheduled to be held this year end, has only added that extra nip to what is being billed as one of the crucial state elections.

An election that could make or mar the political fortunes of chief minister Narendra Modi. If he wins a third term in a row, he will not only cement his popularity in the state, but it could mark his ascendancy in national politics.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle towards his race to yet another victory in the state polls, could be the emergence of another political centre in the state. This time, led by former chief minister and Modi’s bitter political rival, Keshubhai Patel. Keshubhai is yet to officially declare a new front but he has given enough hints. To begin with, the veteran BJP leader has refused to renew his membership of the party.

Patel has been organising rallies and has been giving clear indications that he is all set to  launch his new party later this month on his birthday. He has  been attending caste-based rallies and addressing gatherings. Realising the resentment in a section of the upper castes, he has ensured his presence at every congregation organised by the Patels.

Three-way contest

“It will definitely be a three-way contest this time and the third front will be led by Keshubhai,’’ said Patel’s supporter and former minister in the Modi government, Goardhan Zadafia. He has already floated the Mahagujarat Janata Party during the last elections.

Though Zadafia’s party could not create even a ripple during the last Assembly elections in 2007 or parliamentary polls in 2009, he is confident that the presence of a leader like Patel will definitely make an impact. “The result is already showing, in a recent rally organised at Bhavnagar there were farmers and people from all sections of society who pledged their support to Patel,” asserted Zadafia.

BJP is in power in Gujarat since 1995. It had won elections under Patel then, hence the third front which includes many a former BJP man and leaders are confident that Keshubhai would be able to recreate an alternative force to the ruling BJP. These leaders include former Union minister Kanshiram Rana, former chief Minister Suresh Mehta and rebel BJP leader and party MLA Kanu Kalsaria. Though Kalsaria has managed to draw the ire of the party, he has not been suspended or expelled as he is considered a strong man in his constituency, Mahuva, in North Gujarat.

Regional parties have grown in other parts of the country in the last two decades, but the trend has not made any impact in Gujarat. Attempts to provide a regional choice failed when former chief minister and Congress leader Chimanbhai Patel formed Janta Morcha in 1980s, but realised soon that it would be difficult without the support of Congress and he went back to the Congress. Another former CM, Shankarsinh Vaghela then with the BJP and now with the Congress had floated Rashtriya Janta Party in 1996.
He managed to get seats and form a government but not without the help of the Congress. After his short stint he too merged his party with the Congress.

It was only Morarji Desai who floated the Sanstha Congress after the Great Split in 1969 who met with some success. The BJP dissidents are however confident that the voters are looking for a change after tolerating Narendra Modi for a decade.

“People are tired of the failed law and order in the state, there are too many issues which have to be addressed and for that an alternative has to be given a chance,” said former CM Suresh Mehta.  He said voters going out for vote this time will keep in mind what they have seen in the last one decade and they will definitely vote for a change.

Political analysts like Vishnu Pandya however differ. “The Gujarati voter is different from other parts of the country.” He said they believe in stability and that they have seen comes only with the national parties. He said that the regional parties or the attempts of third front might win a seat or two or maximum ten but they cannot be deciding factor in a state like Gujarat. Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhwadia said that if the people were to vote for an alternative they would vote for the Congress and not look towards any other alternative which could not ensure stability.

For the moment, the ruling BJP is keeping quiet and watching all the developments without expressing any opinion on the issue. “When Keshubhai Patel announces his own party we will see; for now our only political rival in this state is the Congress,” said BJP spokesperson, Vijay Rupani.

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