New Delhi: Long before it was made public that Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah would contest the Lok Sabha elections from Gujarat’s Gandhinagar constituency, preparations for his campaign had started. In fact, not just the BJP, even the Congress knew that Shah would contest from the seat.

Harshad Patel, BJP’s in-charge of the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency told The Sunday Guardian that “We will ensure that our president Amit Shah wins with more than a 5.92 lakh victory margin. We will ensure that he is amongst the top five winners in India.” According to Patel, this specific target has been set based on the top five victory margins of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Congress is likely to field two-term MLA, Dr Chatursinh Javanji Chawda, as its candidate against the BJP president. Chawda currently represents the Gandhinagar Assembly constituency. His candidature has not been announced, and is tentative, but that does not bother him. He is already in the campaign mode. He says, “My constituency has the poor, the Dalits and the Muslims. The farmers have issues of crop insurance and urban Ahmedabadis are finding education costly. Gujaratis are going back to their villages to study as education has become unaffordable in the city.”

Notwithstanding the speculation that Congress may field Hardik Patel against the formidable Amit Shah from here, Chawda claims that he has started making preparations to take on “Amitbhai” head-on.

Chawda was a veterinary doctor in the Gujarat Administrative Service. He served in the Chief Minister’s Office when Shankersinh Vaghela was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. He resigned from government service in 1998 and fought and won the Assembly election in 2002 on a Congress ticket amidst the Narendra Modi wave.

In a telephonic conversation he told The Sunday Guardian that “I am a Rajput. I am not afraid of anybody. Let me tell you, Amitbhai knows me (Amitbhai mane olkhe che). I know he won’t misuse his power against me. He may spend more money than me, but my self-confidence is quite high. I don’t indulge in bravado, but I assure you I will win.”

The Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency consists of seven Assembly segments—Kalol, Gandhinagar North, Sabarmati, Ghatlodiya, Naranpura, Sarkhej and Vejalpur. Vejalpur includes Juhapura, the ghetto where Muslims stay on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Gandhinagar has 19.2 lakh urban and rural voters. The most vocal amongst them are around 2.5 lakh Patels who have been staunch BJP supporters, so far.

The constituency could have been a nightmare for political analysts, as it comprises multiple identities, but it’s not so because an overwhelming number of saffron voters has made it a “BJP bastion”. Starting from BJP leader Ashok Bhatt and Pravin Togadia (ex VHP) to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, everyone has nurtured this constituency with an aggressive agenda of Hindutva.

The polarisation that started in the late 1960s in Ahmedabad, made Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency (which includes a large part of Ahmedabad) one of the most secure seats for BJP in India.

Harshad Patel says, “Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency also includes Amitbhai’s former Assembly constituencies of Sarkhej and Naranpura. He knows the voting patterns and the voters here too well. Also he has been chairman of Ahmedabad District Co-Operative Bank and knows the issues of traders and farmers.’

Shah has always had a close relationship with Gandhinagar constituency because he has been supervising the election of L.K. Advani from there since 1991.

The foundation of “Amitbhai’s” political career has been built around Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency and because of it.

It was obvious to all that he would select Gandhinagar constituency for himself. Also that he would like to inherit the “hard Hindutva image” of Advani by succeeding him from a seat that means a lot to the BJP veteran. Shah will regret a lifetime that Advani didn’t withdraw publicly from the seat, knowing well that Shah is likely to be the candidate from there.

Congress’ Chatursinh Javanji Chawda

It’s an interesting seat too where voters rejected actor Rajesh Khanna in 1996 and former Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan in 1999. The seat became part of history when P.G. Mavalankar won from here in 1977 soon after the Emergency.

L.K. Advani won this seat by a massive margin of 483,121 votes in 2014, largely because of the Modi-Shah duo’s highly efficient electoral machinery.

The Gandhinagar seat has been Amit Shah’s laboratory to perfect booth management through the deployment of political cadre since 1991. Patel claims that 200 BJP workers and leaders in Gandhinagar have been devoting at least two-three hours every day doing some political work or the other since 1991. Shah knows them all, personally.

It was in Gandhinagar that Amit Shah got into the micro-management of booths and into motivating the party’s workforce, which attracted the attention of BJP seniors. Such was Shah’s grip on Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat that in 1996 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee contested from here, on arrival he told Shah light-heartedly, “You will have to ensure a bigger victory margin for me than Advani’s.” Shah did it.

Advani had won in 1991 with a margin of 1.25 lakh votes, Vajapyee won in 1996 with a margin of 1.88 lakh votes.

However, the voter composition here is not entirely set against the Congress. According to an estimate based on a 2017 voters’ list, in Gandhinagar, Dalits number 2.40 lakh; Thakors (OBC) and Rajput/Kshatriyas (Chawda is an upper caste Rajput) 2.34 lakh; Muslims 1.32 lakh; Brahmin and Baniyas around 1.5 lakh; while OBCs, who are a part of the list of Bakshi Commission, number around 62,000 and include Rabaris, Bharwads, Vanzaras, Ahirs and Mers.

But it is said in Gujarat’s political circles that “Forget Congress, it’s difficult for even the BJP to conspire to defeat its own candidate in Gandhinagar because Hindu voters will ensure the party’s victory.”

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