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Battle-hardened BJP patriarch braces for a crucial poll fight

Thursday, 3 April 2014 - 7:39pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: dna

Advani seeks re-election from state capital for fifth straight time — albeit ‘reluctantly’

At 86, battle-hardy Lal Krishna Advani is gearing up for yet another month-long battle in Gandhinagar. The reluctant candidate will file his nomination papers on Saturday, inaugurate his poll office near Rajpath Club and address a couple of rallies — all in a day’s work. The Bharatiya Janata Party patriarch is seeking re-election from the state capital for the fifth straight time!

Advani’s 2004 lead of 2.17 lakh halved to 1.21 lakh votes in 2009. However, in the 2012 assembly election, this lead on seven assembly seats or segments of the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency more than doubled to 2.82 lakh votes. BJP has held this seat for 25 years with Advani having represented it for four terms since 1998 and once earlier in 1991-96.

By any stretch of imagination, this seat is among the safest for the BJP and if it loses, it would be amongst the biggest upsets in the country. Yet it has a very reluctant MP. In fact, the BJP patriarch has been an uncomfortable patron here for a long time now. A close look at the seat in the backdrop of the ego battle between Narendra Modi and Advani reveals why the latter is so skeptical.

Of the seven assembly segments in Gandhinagar, four are part of Ahmedabad city — Ghatlodia, Vejalpur, Naranpura and Sabarmati — all won by BJP, but Modi loyalists. Ghatlodia MLA Anandi Patel is revenue minister in Modi’s Cabinet and touted to be the next chief minister in the event of Modi’s ascent to Delhi. Naranpura MLA is Modi’s right-hand man Amit Shah, who was once considered for the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha candidature. Vejalpur MLA is ambitious newbie Kishor Chauhan with RSS background and Sabarmati MLA Arvind Dalal had also been handpicked by Modi in 2012.

BJP won Gandhinagar North by a slim margin. Congress bagged Kalol and the Nano town of Sanand. In 2011, the saffron party lost the Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation election, whose main electorate consisted of state government employees, despite it being an urban Patel-dominated demography perceived favourable to the BJP.

The seat has been in such limelight thanks to the BJP politicking, that issues concerning the constituents somehow fall by the wayside. For all the noise made by Advani loyalist Harin Pathak about citizens needing a local candidate they can go to for help, well, Advani is not a local.

Especially in the last term, he spent very little time in his constituency, largely owing to strained relations with Modi wherein his every visit to his constituency attracted more attention than he could handle.

Tremors began in 2009 itself when Advani’s family had to camp in the constituency during elections, failing support from local BJP workers. Congress’s Kirit Patel and Aam Aadmi Party’s Rituraj Mehta, on the other hand, are as local as a candidate can get. Resident of Ghatlodia, the Congress veteran is a Leuva Patel and a local developer. Originally from Visnagar, Patel migrated to the Congress with Shankersinh Vaghela and continues to be in tune with him.

“Ghatlodia is my karmabhoomi. I am 100% assured of victory. People are voting for Advani since five terms, but he is never available to solve their problems. He is seen only on TV or posed photographs in newspapers,” said Patel. “Gandhinagar needs industries. There is a problem of employment for the youth. The rural areas have an issue of drinking water. Despite all this, Advani’s MPLAD funds are relapsing. What development are they talking about?” he thundered.

A pragmatic Congress source from the region said Patel will reduce Advani’s lead substantially, primarily because it is a “Patel-dominated seat” and secondly, voters are genuinely frustrated by Advani’s absences. Meanwhile, a third dimension is also emerging. AAP’s 47-year-old candidate Mehta is a suave real estate developer who has some reckoning in the urban sections. Though a political novice himself, BJP and Congress strategists feel Mehta can dent BJP votes in the four urban segments because of the AAP brand. Mehta was not reachable for comment.

Facts & Figures
LK Advani started his career as RSS secretary in Karachi in 1947 when India achieved Independence. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1970.
In 2012 Assembly polls, Congress won the Kalol seat with a wafer thin margin of 343 votes
Gandhinagar has a total of 1769 polling stations in the constituency
It has a total of 16.85 lakh voters – 8.75 lakh males, 8.09 lakh women, and 15 others
Rituraj Mehta, the 47-year-old AAP candidate, claims to be a nature lover, who planted and maintained 25,000 trees in 2013. He claims to have saved 7,000 trees from being chopped for a highway widening project through a ‘movement of RTI and PIL’.

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