Was the ruling BJP’s overconfidence, riding on the back of the party’s mammoth Lok Sabha election win, behind its not-so-great showing in the Gujarat assembly bypolls, especially losing the strong seat of Tharad to the Congress?
The Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday won three of the six seats for which by-elections were held on October 21. The opposition Congress won three of the seats. All the seats were located in north Gujarat and central Gujarat.
The Tharad seat, in north Gujarat, was won by Congress candidate Gulabsinh Pirabhai Rajput by a margin of 6,372 votes against the BJP’s Jivrajbhai Jagtabhai Patel.
Previously won by BJP candidate Parbatbhai Patel, who vacated the seat after his election to the Lok Sabha, the Tharad seat had never been lost by BJP since its formation.
The loss of the seat came as a surprise to the BJP. The party had fielded a senior rural party worker as its candidate. Parbatbhai Patel is known to have been keen on his son being fielded on the seat, though he publicly said that the BJP should field any local party worker as candidate.
“These elections were not make or break. The BJP government was in majority. The party was hoping to win all six seats, and especially as these were held in the aftermath of its Lok Sabha election victory. The party was maintaining it will win all six seats,” senior political commentator Japan Pathak told IANS.
However, the party failed to sense the dissatisfaction among people with the party which failed to address local issues, like condition of roads, and the aftermath of excessive rains in rural areas that affected the people.
Though the party won in Amraiwadi seat, after its candidate Jagdish Ishwarbhai Patel trailed behind the Congress’ Dharmendra Shantilal Patel during several rounds of counting, the voting was very low. “The BJP is known for mobilising voters, but in Amraiwadi, voting was very low,” said Pathak.
“The BJP was over confident, thinking it will win all six seats. But the signs were visible in the lower percentage of voting,” he added.
A part of Ahmedabad city – Amraiwadi saw voter turnout at a low of 31.5 per cent.
OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, who quit the Congress to join BJP earlier this year, lost his Radhanpur seat to Congress’ Raghu Desai by 3,814 votes.
Thakor had won the Radhanpur seat in the 2017 Gujarat election on a Congress ticket.
According to Pathak, Thakor was relying on Thakor community votes. “The impression that people of other community got was that the two will only serve the Thakor community. Thus the other community did not show much interest in their campaign,” he said.
“In contrast, the Congress focused on local issues and set up strong candidates who are popular and active locally, who can win votes on their own merit. The party went for constituency specific candidates,” he said.
Alpesh Thakor had been banking big on his core strength of Thakor voters while also wooing others. Radhanpur, which has a history of electing BJP candidates repeatedly in the past, saw him as Congress candidate snatch the seat from BJP. Thakor is from Viramgam while his rival Desai is a local candidate. Radhanpur has history of not electing those who change their political party.
Dhavalsinh Narendrasinh Zala, Alpesh Thakor’s top aide, lost the Bayad seat in north Gujarat by a margin of 743 votes against rival Congress candidate Jashubhai Shivabhai Patel. Zala had won this seat in 2017 elections.
BJP’s Jigneshkumar Sevak was declared victorious in Lunawada seat of central Gujarat against rival Congress candidate Gulabsinh Chauhan. In Kheralu, BJP’s Ajmalji Valaji Thakor defeated Babuji Ujamji Thakor of the Congress.