Bapu, as Shankersinh Vaghela is fondly known in Gujarat, will test his electoral prospects at the Sabarkantha constituency, touted as a safe seat for the Congress. It is a do-or-die battle for Vaghela to retain his political relevance in the party and the state.
Vaghela moved to Sabarkantha after having lost at Godhra in the 2009 elections, with one Kalim Sheikh cornering 23,000 votes. This time, Kalim Sheikh's brother Arif Sheikh is in the fray in Sabarkantha against Vaghela on a Samajwadi Party ticket.
Sources in the Congress allege that this is a trick by the BJP to divide the Muslim votes. “I have been associated with the party for a couple of years; whatever my party tells me, I have to follow,” Arif told Deccan Herald. “There is no question of dividing Muslim votes, like media is saying,” he added.
It was three Muslim independent candidates who had kept Congress heavyweight Madhusudan Mistry from a win in 2009. But the story may be a little different this time.
“The Congress may gain more than it expects in Gujarat, as both (Narendra) Modi and Amit Shah are busy outside the state this time, and the micromanagement usually done has not been possible with the financing we are otherwise used to in Gujarat,” said a BJP worker in Sabarkantha.
For Vaghela, however, Sabarkantha looks like a safe seat. The caste equations favour the Congress. While the constituency has around 2.08 lakh Patel voters, who normally vote for the BJP, it also has around 3.05 lakh tribal voters and 2.39 lakh Dalit, 72,600 Muslim and 2.36 lakh Kshatriya voters, who are more than likely to vote for the Congress.
A Kshatriya himself, Vaghela is likely to earn extra poll dividends from the community as the BJP has reportedly not been too accommodative of Kshatriyas in its candidate list in Gujarat, and has even dropped five-time MP Rajendrasinh Rana from the Bhavnagar constituency.
Vaghela himself is optimistic, saying he would win the constituency hands down. His previous defeat does not seem to have dampened his spirit. “As of now, Bapu looks to be on stronger footing here,” said Congress worker managing his campaign.
In contrast, the BJP has fielded Dipsinh Rathore, a Thakore-community member, from the seat, which has 1.28 lakh Thakore voters. However Vaghela enjoys strong support from the Thakore community as well.
Rathore said, “Vaghela is the outsider here and hardly knows the constituency, whereas I have spent my life here. We’ll send him packing.”
Whether the confidence he exudes will translate into votes remains to be seen, as the constituency is heavily weighed in favour of the Congress: Even the Assembly seats under it are held by the party.