Assembly Election 2017: Losing six of nine seats in Banaskantha district, BJP ex-minister blames ‘caste equation’

Having won only three of nine seats in a district where it put in time, effort and aid months before the elections to cover as much ground as possible, a former minister SAID that the BJP was a victim of polarised caste politics in Banaskantha. The party lost one more constituency in Banaskantha over the 2012 results, with two sitting ministers ending up second.

While delaying the announcement of election dates for Gujarat, the Election Commission had cited a request from the state government for more time for flood relief work in the region as one of the reasons. The government had contended that the model code of conduct would have affected relief work. The additional time saw the government reach out to the electorate. When The Indian Express visited Banaskantha in October, the foundation stone was laid for a medical college in Moraiya village. At another event, then state health minister Shankar Chaudhary and MoS (Welfare of Socially and Economically Backward Classes) Keshaji Chauhan were holding a Garib Kalyan Mela, where beneficiaries got houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Gramin). A foundation stone was also laid for 2,121 future beneficiaries.

“We want to give all that you missed in the last 60-70 years,” Chaudhary had said while handing over items to beneficiaries. Both Chaudhary and Chauhan lost in the elections, as the Congress bagged five seats and Congress-backed Independent candidate Jignesh Mevani won from Vadgam seat in the district. “It (defeat) is only because of caste equations in the district. We spoke about development and wanted to fight on the basis of development but caste equations won. There are a majority Dalit and Thakor votes in Banaskantha, and that is why we could not make it,” Chaudhary told The Indian Express over telephone on Tuesday.

Chaudhary, who held the portfolio of health and family welfare, medical education, environment and urban development, had campaigned aggressively on social media, through short films projecting him as the “saviour” who helped people in flood-affected Banaskantha. The BJP’s campaign also focussed on the floods: party leaders harped on the fact that Congress legislators were at a luxury resort in Karnataka — the party had flown them to save them from “poaching” before the Rajya Sabha polls — at a time people in the district were struggling with the flood situation. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani camped in Banaskantha district for five days in August, even as the Centre and state governments gave a relief package of Rs 2000 crore for Banaskantha and Patan districts.

Admitting that the defeat was unexpected, Chaudhary on Tuesday said, “Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi-ji had visited the district on multiple occasions…we ensured that we worked hard for flood relief. But caste equations…. We were not expecting to lose.”

Modi had visited Banaskantha during the floods in July and held two rallies in the district — at Bhabhar on December 8, and Palanpur on December 10. In both areas, he had brought up now-suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “neech” remark and broached the topic of a suspected “Pakistan hand” in Gujarat elections. As campaigning drew to a close, Modi took the sea plane to Danta, Banaskantha, to pay obeisance at Ambaji temple. Bhabhar is in Vav constituency, where Chaudhary lost to Congress’s Geniben Thakor. The BJP also lost in Palanpur.

Keshaji Chauhan lost to Shivabhai Bhuria from Deodhar. Chauhan comes from the Koli community, which forms more than 25 per cent of the electorate of Deodar. His opponent, a Chaudhary, has 15 per cent votes from his caste in the constituency. Vav, from where ex-minister Shankar Chaudhary lost, has equal number of Thakors and Chaudharys.