New Delhi: More than 2.12 crore voters will decide the fate of 977 candidates across 89 seats in Saurashtra and South Gujarat regions. One seat among them is most important to the BJP.
Deep in the heart of Saurashtra region is an assembly segment that holds the unique distinction of being represented by two chief ministers, a state finance minister, the current governor of Karnataka and the Prime Minister of India.
Gujarat Assembly Constituency number 69 — Rajkot West — has been a prestige seat for the BJP. In 2002, Narendra Modi contested the first-ever election of his life from Rajkot West and won. He was anointed the chief minister.
This time, BJP’s candidate from Rajkot West is Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
Rajkot used to be a Congress stronghold once. In 1985, the newly-formed BJP wrested this seat from the Grand Old Party. Ever since, the BJP has remained unbeatable here. Yet, this time around, the Congress may well be able to put up a fight in this seat owing to the Patidar agitation.
Around 75,000 voters in Rajkot West are Patidars and there is uncertainty over which way will they swing.
Rajkot district, the financial hub of the Saurashtra region, is said to hold the key to the entire state. The district alone has eight assembly constituencies within it and of these Rajkot West is perhaps the most high-profile.
The last time Congress won this seat was back in 1980, when Manibhai Ranpara won with 19,755 votes, while BJP’s Vajubhai Vala was not far behind with 17,762 votes.
In the 1985 elections, Vala finally won the seat by beating Congress candidate Harshdaba Chudasa. Vala remained the MLA from Rajkot West till 2002, when he vacated the seat for BJP’s CM-designate Narendra Modi. The future Prime Minister won the election from Rajkot West after polling 45,298 votes. His opponent, Congress leader Ashwini Maheta polled 30,570 votes in the bypoll.
For the 2002 Assembly polls, Modi moved to contest from the Maninagar seat and Vajubhai Vala was back to contesting from Rajkot West. He won the seat three more times in 2002, 2007 and 2012 and even served as the Finance Minister of Gujarat under Modi.
When the BJP formed the government at the Centre in 2014 and Modi finally ascended the high seat in Delhi, Vala was rewarded for keeping the BJP fortress intact and was made the Governor of Karnataka.
In the 2014 bypoll, the seat was then passed on to Vijay Rupani, who won with 81,092 votes. He beat his Congress opponent Jayanti Kalriya, a Patidar, by over 23,000 votes. In August 2016, when Chief Minister Anandiben Patel resigned, Rupani was elevated to the CM’s post.
There are around 3 lakh registered voters in Rajkot West and around 42,000 of them are Kadwa Patels, 33,000 are Leuva Patels, 25,000 Brahmins, 25,000 Lohanas, 22,000 minority voters, 20,000 Baniyas and 10,000 Kshatriyas.
The Congress has fielded Indraneel Rajyaguru, a Brahmin, to topple Rupani, who is a Jain. However, the deciding factor for this seat will be the 75,000 Patidar votes.