Banaskantha is a seat the Congress has been winning for the last two Lok Sabha elections, consistently improving its margin. But it lost to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the by-election following the death of its MP Mukesh Gadhvi. In the by-poll, BJP’s current candidate and sitting MP Hari Chaudhary won by a margin of over 50,000 votes, the highest ever victory margin the seat has seen since 1996.
But an analysis of this Lok Sabha constituency shows that the electorate here has never been consistent in choosing a single party. In fact, it has always alternated between two parties with instances of the winner’s margin being less than 2,000 votes.
In the last five Lok Sabha elections (excluding the 2013 by-election) the BJP has won the Banaskantha seat twice and the Congress thrice. But what is interesting is that the winning candidate’s margin has rarely crossed 10,000. In fact, many a time like in the 1999 Lok Sabha election, it was a close call with the BJP having an edge of just under 2,000 votes over its Congress rival.
The latter can take heart from the fact that it had managed to slightly improve its 2004 winning margin of 6,928 votes to 10,301 votes in 2009.
The BJP, though, is confident of Chaudhary making a comeback. “We have already started the Yuva Morcha Sammelan and the Vijay Shankh Sammelan in 18 places and given I-cards to around 700 new members. This alone shows that people are keen to vote for the BJP,” said Gajendra Saxena, BJP general secretary of Banaskantha district, claiming that apart from Chaudhary’s popularity, the Modi wave will work in their favour. “It is Modi all the way. Our PM candidate’s name alone is enough to get us votes,” he added.
When reminded of the Congress’s stellar performance in the 2004 and 2009 elections, Saxena said it was immaterial as the by-election was won by Chaudhary. “If it was a Congress bastion, how did we win the by-elections?” he asked. Saxena also admitted that earlier party workers were not an enthused lot. But, this time around and even during the by-elections, they were very enthusiastic.
“In 2004 and 2009, the OBC vote split and the Congress had the backing of the Brahmin votes, too,” said Saxena. Incidentally, the party won four of the seven assembly segments making up the Banaskantha LS constituency in the 2012 assembly election.
The seat that has over 15 lakh voters is dominated by OBC (Thakore and Chaudhary) who account for approximately 4.5 lakh voters. Dalits, Rabaris, Brahmins and Prajapatis form the other substantial share.
Congress’s Joitabhai Patel, current MLA from Dhanera, an assembly seat he has won thrice, is not perturbed by the by-election results that went in favour of the BJP. “The Congress performed poorly in several such by-elections. But, it is hardly a reflection of how we have performed in Lok Sabha elections. We are confident of winning this seat,” said Patel, a Chaudhary, belonging to the OBC category.
The Congress leader, in fact, has already met party workers and top community leaders in all the 12 talukas falling under this seat. “Now, we will hold zilla panchayat meetings as well as meet people in groups in all the seven assembly segments,” said Patel, who is making his Lok Sabha election debut.
The AAP candidate, Sanjay Raval, meanwhile, refuses to discuss caste equations. “I am a newcomer and we want to change this obsession with caste. Across Banaskantha, people know me for the work I have done,” said Raval, who claimed that most of the youths working for him belong to the OBC community. “This caste perception is a media creation. People want someone who will work and I think they will vote for a clean candidate,” he added.
AAP is also banking on a split in the OBC vote to help it sail through.