Exit of biggies leaves Congress gasping in Cenral Gujarat

BJP making inroads into tribal belts

Exit of biggies leaves Congress gasping in Cenral Gujarat

Home to India's biggest cooperative movement and milk revolution (Anand), Sardar Patel and former chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki, Central Gujarat was once a Congress stronghold. However, the tide gradually seems to be shifting towards the saffron brigade.

Central Gujarat can broadly be divided into the relatively affluent and urban Vadodara, Kheda, Mahisagar and Anand, courtesy industry and dairy business, as well as the tribal belt of Panchmahals, Chhota Udepur and Dahod.

In 2012, both the BJP and the Congress had split the spoils 50:50, winning 20 seats each. However, the winning margin for many BJP candidates was more than 10%, compared to Congress candidates' less than 5%.

In 2014 Parliamentary polls, the BJP led in 33 of the 40 constituencies, while the Congress was relegated to just seven constituencies. While urban Vadodara has been with the BJP, the tribal belt seems to prefer the Congress. However, what has added to the woes of the Congress is the exit of five of its stalwarts from the region - former chief minister and tall political figure Shankarsinh Vaghela; the last standing Congressman in dairy cooperative, Amul dairy chairman and Thasra legislator Ramsinh Parmar; senior Congress leaders Mansinh Chauhan, C K Raulji and Mahendra Vaghela, son of Shankarsinh.

Huge void

All these men, who had an iron grip over the affluent Kheda, Nadiad and Anand districts, deserted Congress during last Rajya Sabha elections. This, observers feel, has left a huge void for the party seeking to retain its hold in the region. The exit of Ramsinh Parmar has, in fact, made the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), the owner of brand Amul, completely 'Congress-mukt'.

The Congress, which won 14 and 15 of 27 Assembly seats reserved for tribals in 2007 and 2012 respectively, is also troubled by infighting in the tribal belt between leader of Opposition in the outgoing Assembly, Mohansinh Rathwa, and former Union minister Narain Rathwa.

The BJP has put in extra effort to gradually eat into this Congress bastion. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrated his birth anniversary at Limkheda in Dahod district with tribals, announcing a series of development works. Before him, Anandiben Patel as Gujarat chief minister travelled extensively here and later, BJP national president Amit Shah focussed his attention on strengthening party base. Shah even had food at a tribal home in Devaliya village of Chhota Udepur district.

The Congress hopes that lack of development, education and poor situation of farmers dominate political discourse in tribal areas, other than the key issue of non-allotment of forestland to tribals under the Forest Rights Act.

The Congress, meanwhile, has little bandwidth to take on the BJP in Vadodara that has 10 seats. "During good times, we generally buy a new SUV, but in tough times we just change tyres. We have been changing tyres for the last two years, but the BJP has done good work in Vadodara. It has built good infrastructure, roads, flyovers... It has been an educational hub for over a century," Sanjaybhai, a realtor from Vadodara, said. "There is an issue of unemployment, but I think, going forward, youngsters should be ready to switch between blue-collared and white-collared jobs."

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