Cong fields its 'richest' nominee to fight CM Rupani in saffron fort

Cong fields its 'richest' nominee to fight CM Rupani in saffron fort

It is headquarters of Saurashtra region. It is home to Father of the Nation  Mahatma Gandhi, who did his early education in this city. It is also the city where RSS set up its base in 1944. It is home to diesel engine industry, besides being a commodities and equity trading hub. Politically, it is home to two former chief ministers Keshubhai Patel and Narendra Modi - and incumbent Vijay Rupani. It is also the home turf of current Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Rudabhai Vala.

The constituency is such a safe bet for BJP that Vajubhai represented it seven times, first from 1985 to 2002, when he vacated it for then chief minister Narendra Modi to contest bypolls. Modi won the seat with a margin of 14,728 votes against Congress candidate. With Modi later moving to Maninagar constituency in Ahmedabad, Vala was back in his seat till he moved to Karnataka as its governor in 2014. Rupani has since moved in as Rajkot West legislator, winning in October 2014 against his Congress opponent by a margin of over 23,000 votes.

A strong saffron fort, Rajkot, particularly Rajkot (West), is now a battleground between the politically strongest man in the state and the richest candidate as his opponent. Here, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani is pitted against Indranil Rajyaguru, the richest man in the electoral arena, having declared assets worth over Rs 141 crore.

It is, thus, a battle of prestige for both BJP and Congress. For BJP because it has singularly represented this constituency for 32 years now, even before it could establish its government in the state of Gujarat. For Congress, as it has never been able to break into this seemingly impregnable fort. A defeat for BJP here could mean end of the saffron party in the entire region of Saurashtra and Kutch that sends 54 legislators to the 182-seat Gujarat Assembly.

Interestingly, both Indranil and Rupani are sitting legislators, the former from Rajkot (East) and latter from Rajkot (West). Both are first-time legislators. However, when Indranil realised that it would be Rupani again from Rajkot (West), he approached his party bosses to let him leave the comfort of his Rajkot (East) constituency and  take on Rupani in Rajkot (West).

"Rupani is a bad man. Entire Rajkot knows it and he cannot be allowed to win," Indranil has been maintaining for long. The reasons, only he knows.

The other thing that gives hope to Indranil is the impact of demonetisation and GST on a large trader community in the constituency. "We have traditionally been BJP voters but the way double blow was dealt to us, many of us may switch loyalties after a long time, making it a keener contest than earlier. It has really hit us hard," says a auto parts dealer in the city.

BJP's hopes  

However, notwithstanding the Patel quota stir  and other irritants, the people of Rajkot (West) would find it difficult to ignore the reality that one of their candidates is the chief minister of the state. At least that is what local BJP leadership believes. "We have already eased the impact of GST by reducing the rates. I doubt it will be an issue anymore," BJP spokesperson Raju Dhruv said.

What also gives confidence to BJP is that its MP Mohanbhai Kundariya had secured 1,31,350 votes in this Assembly segment during Parliamentary polls in 2014, leading with a margin of 85,868 votes over Congress candidate. Moreover, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had an extremely successful road show in Rajkot before polls were announced and a decent public rally early this week.

Patel strength

Rajyaguru for his part believes that having campaigned for over a year, he has been able to reach out to his electorate and pins his hopes on rumours that Rupani may not be the chief minister after December polls. His other hope is Patel quota stir leader Hardik Patel, who   held a massive rally in Rajkot, exhorting his supporters to ensure that BJP loses in the ongoing polls. With almost one-third of the electorate coming from Hardik's community, it definitely raises Congress hopes that it may just be able to dent the saffron fort this time.

The results on December 18 would be the day to watch.

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