Caste equations favour Gujarat BJP chief in Bhavnagar

Caste equations favour Gujarat BJP chief in Bhavnagar

For two centuries, it was a major port having trade links with Africa, Singapore and the Persian Gulf.

It is now home to Asia's biggest ship-breaking industry, Alang, and was once a diamond trade hub that was slated to give Surat a tough fight.

"Over the past two decades, politicians and massive migration have turned Bhavnagar into a big village," says Chintan Acharya, a 35-year-old equity trader.

A vast majority of 'Bhavnagaris', as they are popularly known, have migrated to Surat, Ahmedabad and Mumbai for better prospects.

"We also had the biggest plastic hub in Asia but today we are struggling to survive. Demonetisation and GST hit us hard. The last reduction in GST only made things difficult," said a plastic manufacturing unit owner on condition of anonymity.

Bhavnagar, he says, now has about 500 small-scale units manufacturing plastic chords and bags.

But demonetisation, GST and unemployment won't decide the fate of candidates in this town having two Assembly constituencies. It will be caste and candidate.

While the ruling BJP has fielded sitting MLA Dr Vibhavariben Dave as its candidate from Bhavnagar (East), state unit chief Jitu Vaghani will contest from Bhavnagar (West).

Interestingly, he is the second state party chief from the town. Rajendrasinh Rana was the state BJP chief from 1998 to 2006.

"Bhavnagar (West) has a mixed population of all the castes and Jitubhai is party president. He should win but you never know. The Congress candidate, Govindbhai Gohel, is a good man but he is old school," says Hardevsinh, who manages a small shop in the town.

And as the BJP chief's roadshow passes by raising dust, Hardevsinh rues the fact that his MLA was "not really approachable" and that it was tough to make ends meet. "The people have little choice," he quipped.

"There may be anti-incumbency against Jitubhai but if Shaktisinh Gohel had come here instead of Mandvi in Kutch, things could have been interesting. Moreover, the mixed caste electorate favours none of the candidates," says a senior BJP man who shows not much liking for Vaghani.

He goes on to provide a detailed insight. "Jitubhai's constituency has 2.41 lakh voters, with over 50,000 OBC voters, around 40,000 Kolis, 36,000 Patels, 30,000 Kshatriyas, around 24,000 Brahmins, 12,000-15,000 Baniyas, about 35,000 from the minority community and 14,000 SCs," he explained.

Though Patidar quota leader Hardik Patel and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi campaigned in the constituency, things may not change much.

"Jitubhai is a Patel and will split Patel votes, so Hardik factor would be negated. BJP president Amit Shah was here when Jitubhai filed nomination papers and this could see Baniyas go with his choice. They also settled the issue Vaghani had with Karadiya Rajputs who were opposing him. So let's see," says Naresh Shah, a real estate broker surviving on rental income from his two shops in Waghwadi Bazaar area.

"The only two local issues that could turn the BJP applecart is whether people believe the BJP's one more promise of legalising construction in Kaliyabid and the way Patels of Nari Gaam vote for being included in Bhavnagar corporation against their wishes," he added.

As for the district, the BJP has been winning six of the seven constituencies since 2002, having lost Gadhda in 2002, Bhavnagar (South) in 2007 and Palitana in 2012 to the Congress.

The BJP has not lost Talaja, Bhavnagar (Rural), Bhavnagar (East), Ghariyaghar or Mahuva in last three outings.

Bhavnagar (South) is now Bhavnagar (West) after delimitation in 2012, while Gadhda is part of Botad district.

With a total electorate of about 16.25 lakh voters, the BJP is hoping that Bhavnagar would remain its bastion this time too.

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