It would be an uphill task for Congress leader Paresh Dhanani to win from the Amreli Assembly constituency for the fourth time in the next month’s Gujarat elections, especially when the Patidar quota agitation has faded out.
The former Leader of Opposition in the Assembly is also facing challenge from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which is expected to eat into the Congress’s traditional vote banks.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded its district unit chief Kaushik Vekariya from the seat, while the AAP has given ticket to Ravi Dhanani.
All three — Dhanani and his two rivals — belong to the Patidar community. Patidar voters account for more than half the voters in the constituency.
As one enters Amreli, big hoardings of Paresh Dhanani are seen on every major road, advertising the work he has done for the constituency.
His supporters say that he would have become the chief minister had the Congress won a majority in 2017. The opposition party had come close to the majority figure in 2017 but could not make it.
“This election is a fight between arrogant rulers and the people of Gujarat. Amreli has always shown the way to Gujarat, and this time also they will elect me and give a call for change after 27 years of BJP misrule,” Dhanani said.
“Due to this misrule, Gujarat is plagued by economic slowdown, inflation, unemployment, corruption, drug mafia and land mafia. This election is an opportunity for those whose voice has been silenced by the BJP to oust the BJP government,” he added.
His supporters believe that Dhanani’s connect with the people and work on the ground has made him a force to reckon with, even though this region is a BJP stronghold.
Elsewhere, 20 km from Amreli city, in the rural area, the BJP’s Vekariya was received by young girls of the village Nani Kukavav at his second election meeting of the day. He was scheduled to speak at two more before the day ended.
He went around the village, interacting with people as his supporters beat the drums.
“When people of Amreli go to the MLA (Paresh Dhanani) for work, he says he cannot do their work as he does not have a say in the present government. Being the district unit president, I can get your work done now, and after becoming MLA, it would be even easier for me to develop the district,” he said.
Speaking to PTI, Vekariya said, “Dhanani has not done any work in the constituency, blaming the government. On the other hand, he has put up big hoardings saying he has done many things for Amreli. He is trying to take credit for state and central government schemes. People are tired of him.” The AAP is not an influential factor in Amreli and it will become clear on the day of election results, he claimed.
AAP candidate Ravi Dhanani was busy in door-to-door campaign in Amreli city.
“I am the son of a farmer. This is a district of farmers and those associated with the farm industry. The farming community is tired of this government and wants a change,” he said.
”People, especially the youth will drive the change,” the AAP candidate added.
Local journalist Vijay Chauhan, who runs a newspaper, said Paresh Dhanani has his work cut out this time.
“The effect of the Patidar quota issue does not exist this time. It was once a very big factor. Also, the AAP is another player which will grab some votes and it is likely to damage the Congress more.
”Young people, especially the youth who work in Surat, have a craze for AAP as a new party,” he said.
Amreli Assembly constituency has been a swing seat.
In 2002, thanks to internal strife within the BJP, Paresh Dhanani who was only 26 then won from the seat despite a big wave in favour of Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
The Patidar community was unhappy after the unceremonious removal of Keshubhai Patel as chief minister in 2001. Patel was replaced by Modi.
But in 2007, Dhanani lost to the BJP’s Dileep Sanghani.
The Congress leader wrested back the seat in 2012 as the Patel community once again felt that they were being sidelined and they needed to back Patidar candidates of the Congress.
After that Dhanani’s political star rose and his followers even projected him as a chief ministerial candidate before the 2017 elections, held in the backdrop of the Patidar quota agitation.
He defeated former minister Bavku Undhad in the election and was subsequently made Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.
But the political scene has changed since 2017, as BJP government gave 10 per cent quota for Economically Backward Class among the upper castes; made Bhupendra Patel, a Patidar, the chief minister; and won over quota agitation leader Hardik Patel to its side.
For the BJP, it is a matter of prestige to win the Amreli seat. The party had lost all the five assembly seats in the Amreli district in 2017.
“ BJP leaders from Amreli like Purshottam Rupala (Union agriculture minister), (MP) Naran Kachadiya and I have decided to come together and work hard for the party’s victory in Amreli seat,” said Dileep Sanghani, former MP who had defeated Paresh Dhanani in 2007.
“Dhanani has lost credibility and the people of Amreli are making fun of him as he has not been able to do any work in the constituency,” he added.
Besides more than 50 per cent Patidar voters, the constituency has 15 per cent Koli population which falls in the OBC category. Upper castes, Dalits and Muslims make up the rest.
Barring Amreli town, the constituency is predominantly rural. During the last elections the constituency had 2.68 lakh registered voters, out of which 63.33 per cent cast their vote.