BJP’s ‘Operation Lotus’ Backfiring in Gujarat? Cadre Unhappy With Bypoll Tickets to Congress Turncoats

BJP's ‘Operation Lotus’ Backfiring in Gujarat? Cadre Unhappy With Bypoll Tickets to Congress Turncoats
BJP’s ‘Operation Lotus’ Backfiring in Gujarat? Cadre Unhappy With Bypoll Tickets to Congress Turncoats

Ahmedabad: The BJP’s gameplan to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ in Gujarat seems to be backfiring with party leaders said to be unhappy with the entry of Congress MLAs into the party. Tickets to these turncoat lawmakers to fight Assembly bypolls has led to further discontent.

The apparent rift in the ranks may become a cause for concern for the saffron party ahead of general elections in which it hopes to retain 26 seats in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.

As per the current composition of the 182-member Assembly, the BJP has 99 MLAs, the Congress 77, NCP has one, the Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP) has two seats and three others are Independents. The lone NCP MLA and two BTP MLAs are in alliance with the Congress, while independent MLA Jignesh Mevani won with the support of the Congress.

“The BJP had won the 2017 Assembly polls with a thin majority. The sword was constantly hanging over the government as any major dissident among party MLAs can unseat the government,” said a senior party leader.

“So, the BJP decided to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ and launched ‘Operation Lotus’ in which four Congress MLAs were inducted into the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. By doing this, the Vijay Rupani government planned to increase its MLA strength in the state assembly and to build momentum to retain 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat,” the leader added.

The four Congress legislators who crossed over are Jawahar Chavda (Manavadar), Parshottam Sabariya (Dhrangdhra), Vallabh Dharaviya (Jamnagar Rural) and Ashaben Patel (Unjha). In fact, Manavadar Congress MLA and Ahir leader Chavda was inducted into the Vijay Rupani cabinet hours after he joined the BJP.

However, sources say the strategy has created discomfort in some Assembly constituencies, sending party leaders into a tizzy. The Assembly bypolls being held simultaneously along with the Lok Sabha elections has further complicated the situation, say BJP insiders.

The bypolls were necessitated in five Assembly seats after four Congress MLAs switched sides to the BJP and one Congress MLA, Bhagvan Barad from Talala constituency, was suspended by the Speaker after the legislator was convicted in an illegal mining case. Barad has challenged the declaration of the bypoll.

The BJP has so far announced candidates for three bypolls – Jamnagar Rural, Manavadar and Dhrangdhra, fielding Congress turncoats Raghavji Patel, Jawahar Chavda and Purshottam Sabariya, respectively.

The discontent had come to the fore immediately after Sabariya switched to the BJP last month. Protesting against the move, the BJP cadre had burnt his effigy. The party cadra also point to Sabariya’s ‘tainted’ image.

Sabariya was arrested by Morbi police in October 2018 for allegedly demanding Rs 40 lakh in exchange for not exposing an alleged scam in repairing check-dams and minor irrigation schemes in the district. He is out on bail.

“We have conveyed to our party that we will not campaign for this corrupt Congress turncoat candidate in bypolls as it affects our image,” said a dissident BJP leader.

Unjha Headache

In north Gujarat, the BJP faces a big challenge in Unjha Assembly constituency as party veteran and five-time MLA Naran Patel has threatened to defeat the saffron party if it gives ticket to Congress MLA Asha Patel who had joined the BJP in February. Asha Patel had defeated Naran Patel in the constituency which houses Modi’s native village Vadnagar. The corresponding Lok Sabha constituency is Mehsana, a BJP bastion.

Naran Patel is said to have considerable sway in Unjha’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), considered to be Asia’s biggest market for Cumin. His anxiety also stems from fears that Asha Patel’s supporters might end up defeating his aides in the APMC general elections, thereby diminishing his hold in the body.

Sources say Naran Patel’s rebellion may have ripple effect in Mehsana Lok Sabha elections as well. “So, the BJP has not yet declared its candidates for Mehsana Lok Sabha seat and Unjha Assembly bypoll,” said an insider.

Saurashtra Spoiler

In the Saurashtra region, the disqualification of Talala Congress MLA and Ahir leader Bhagvan Barad has angered the Ahir community.

Barad, convicted in a mining case, has approached the Gujarat High Court, challenging his disqualification from the Assembly and the declaration of bypoll in his constituency.

The Congress leader said his disqualification should be revoked as per the apex court’s September 2018 order which said that if an appellate court stayed the conviction of a disqualified lawmaker, his/her membership will get revived.

“On the one hand, Barad’s disqualification has angered Ahirs. On the other side, Congress MLA and Ahir leader Jawahar Chavda’s induction into the BJP has not generated desired results and enthusiasm among Ahirs in Junagadh and Porbandar Lok Sabha seats,” a BJP leader told News18.

Jamnagar Jam

In Jamnagar Rural assembly seat, Congress MLA Vallabh Dharviya had switched to the BJP last month, but the party has not fielded him in bypolls as he was assured that he will be made chairman in one of the boards in the state government. The BJP instead fielded Raghavji Patel who had left the Congress ahead of 2017 Assembly polls to join the BJP. He had contested on BJP ticket against Dharviya, but lost. Raghavji Patel is also unpopular among party cadre in Jamnagar Rural seat as they are being made to campaign for “imported Congress candidate” to keep the party afloat.

“Some party leaders suggested to the top leadership that Assembly bypolls should be held after Lok Sabha Polls in seats where the Congress MLAs resigned and switched to the BJP. But party leaders thought Modi wave will help them in bypolls if these are held alongside Lok Sabha elections. We have to wait and watch if this strategy works,” said the BJP leader.

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