Gujarat assembly elections: In the last two Assembly elections, the Congress has performed better than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in north Gujarat, which accounts for 32 seats, and the Opposition party will aim to retain its edge in the region in 2022, too, with some factors going in its favour.
Elections will be held in the region in the second phase on December 5 when the remaining 93 seats in the 182-member Assembly will be covered.
While the BJP faces rebellion in some pockets and an undercurrent of anger palpable among the dominant OBC Chaudhary community due to the arrest of dairy cooperative leader and former home minister Vipul Chahduary, local caste dynamics and selection of candidates are likely to play a major role in the final outcome, political analysts said.
Out of the 32 Assembly seats spread across six districts of the region - Banaskantha, Patan, Mehsana, Sabarkantha, Aravalli and Gandhinagar - the Congress won 17 seats in both the 2012 and 2017 elections.
The BJP, on the other hand, emerged victorious in 15 and 14 Assembly constituencies in 2012 and 2017, respectively. In the last polls, one seat (SC-reserved Vadgam) went to an independent candidate, Jignesh Mevani, who was supported by the Congress.
The Opposition party has reposed its trust in a majority of its sitting MLAs in the region, and has renominated 11 of them. At the same time, the BJP has fielded only six out of its 14 sitting MLAs, and given a chance to new candidates in the remaining Assembly segments.
Both the parties have fielded candidates from Patidar and Koli communities by taking into account the local caste dynamics.
Experts believe the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is not likely to make much of a difference in north Gujarat, which will see a straight contest between the Congress and the BJP, unlike the possible impact of the Arvind Kejriwal-led party on outcome in Surat in south Gujarat and some seats in the Saurashtra region.
"The BJP gained electorally in central and north Gujarat regions in the 2002 polls (held in the backdrop of state-wide post-Godhra communal riots). However, by 2012, the Congress recovered much of the lost ground in north Gujarat and five years later managed to retain its hold in the region," said political analyst Dilip Gohil.
The arrest of cooperative leader Vipul Chaudhary in a Rs 800-crore corruption case has upset the people from his community which forms a significant chunk of voters on seats in Banaskantha district and some parts of Mehsana, according to analysts and members of the social group.
Chaudhary, a former chairman of Dudhsagar Dairy, is accused of corruption during his stint at the cooperative body. There were talks of the former minister joining the AAP ahead of the elections, but that did not materialise.
Mogaji Chaudhary, a former vice-president of Dudhsagar Dairy who is also associated with the Arbuda Sena, a social organisation of the Chaudhary community, said members of the social group will cast their vote according to their choice and no direction has been issued to them.
"They will consider factors such as candidates and local issues while voting," said Mogaji Chaudhary, but maintained there is anger among community members about how Vipul Chaudhary was treated.
"There is anger among the people from the community regarding what was done to Vipul Chaudhary, but the Arbuda Sena has decided to remain non-political," he said. The powerful OBC community has its presence everywhere in north Gujarat.
"Local candidates will play a crucial role more than anything else. Community members will vote for local candidates irrespective of the political party he represents. We have not issued any direction to the community as to what to do and what not regarding the election," Mogaji Chaudhary asserted.
The BJP is facing rebellion in some Assembly seats like Deesa in Banaskantha. Voters are also not happy with the way the BJP has handled Congress turncoat Alpesh Thakor.
The ruling party has fielded Thakor from the Gandhinagar South seat. In 2019, he lost the by-election from Radhanpur in Patan district as the BJP candidate. He had won Radhanpur in the 2017 elections on a Congress ticket before joining the BJP.
There are three Scheduled Tribe (ST) and as many Scheduled Caste (SC) reserved seats in the region. The Congress holds all the three ST-reserved Assembly segments, while two of the SC constituencies are with the BJP. The third SC-reserved seat is represented by Mevani, who this time is the Congress candidate from Vadgam.