Ahmedabad: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party on Sunday sealed victory in the crucial by-election for Jasdan assembly seat in Gujarat which has traditionally been a stronghold for the Congress.
With this win, BJP’s total tally in the 182 member Gujarat assembly rises to 100 from 99.
Meanwhile, for the by-election for Kolebira assembly seat in Jharkhand held recently, the Congress emerged victorious.
Congress candidate Viksal Kongadi defeated closest rival Basant Soreng of the BJP by about 10,000 votes. The election for Kolebira seat in Jharkhand was necessitated after Jharkhand Party MLA Enos Ekka was convicted in a murder case.
In Gujarat’s Jasdan by-polls,BJP candidate Kunvarji Bavaliya won with 89,000 votes as compared to Congress candidate Avsar Nakiya who bagged 69,000 votes. Besides Bavaliya and Nakiya, six other candidates were in fray.
The high stake election is seen as a litmus test for the BJP in Gujarat ahead of the 2019 state elections. The election comes after the recent defeat of BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan.
The Jasdan assembly seat fell vacant in July after sitting member of legislative assembly (MLA) Bavaliya quit the Congress to join the BJP. Bavaliya was soon sworn in as a minister in the cabinet of chief minister Vijay Rupani. Nakiya was Bavaliya’s campaign manager in the past.
Bavaliya, a four-time MLA and a one-time MP, has been a popular face of the Koli community that has a significant presence in Saurashtra. For the ruling party to retain all 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat that it won in 2014, Saurashtra plays an important role as the region has eight of these seats (including one in Kutch).
The BJP already has a prominent Koli face in Parshottam Solanki, an MLA from Bhavanagar (rural) who is reportedly not keeping well. Bavaliya’s entry is as an attempt to project an alternative Koli face ahead of the 2019 elections.
Bavaliya’s win is crucial for BJP to increase its hold in Saurashtra, an area where farm distress and unemployment helped the Congress win 79 seats in the 2017 state elections, up from 61 in 2012.
The BJP, which clinched victory by bagging 99 assembly seats, faced its toughest electoral challenges in Gujarat in the last two decades as it lost a lot of ground in Saurashtra.
Jasdan has 2.32 lakh voters in this constituency out of that which a majority are Kolis followed by the Patels. The voting for Jasdan was held on December 20 and the voter turnout at Jasdan was close to 72%.
The BJP held door-to-door campaigns with Central and state ministers visiting the constituency and holding meetings and attending rallies. On the last day of campaigning, BJP took out a bike rally with Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani leading it.
For the Congress, its Gujarat in-charge Rajeev Satav, a host of legislators and Punjab cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu campaigned for Nakiya. Even Patidar leader Hardik Patel and former Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela has campaigned for the Congress.
The by-poll loss would also mean that the Congress will have to re-work its strategy with senior leaders in Gujarat.
Bavalia had been visibly upset with the promotion of new leaders to key party posts in Gujarat.
He was reportedly unhappy as Paresh Dhanani, Congress MLA from Amreli, was chosen over him as leader of the Opposition.
While the 2017 Gujarat elections saw a revival of the Congress, it also saw many of its senior state leaders losing to rival BJP candidates.
The emergence of many new leaders seems to have upset the senior order in the party.
Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, plays a crucial role for the BJP which is looking to retain power at the Centre in 2019. It is the only state other than Rajasthan where the BJP won all the Lok Sabha sets in the 2014 general elections.