Shankarsinh Vaghela seems to be sailing smoothly as of now. But there are two candidates who have the potential to derail his boat at the Sabarkantha Lok Sabha seat.
One is Chhagan K Solanki, an Independent candidate. A retired class I officer and belonging to the Scheduled Tribes, he has launched a door-to-door campaign in Bhiloda and Khedbrahma assembly segments while Arif Abdul Latif, an Amdavadi, is the other one. Contesting on a Samajwadi Party ticket, he is out to divide the Muslim vote.
Tribals and Muslims of the area have been a traditional Congress vote-bank that allowed Madhusudan Mistry to win in the past. Even when he lost in 2009, Muslims voted for him, claimed locals. However, a split in the tribal vote, spearheaded by Solanki, put brakes on the grand old party’s winning spree.
Solanki’s appeal is simple. That is vote for a tribal for the rights they have been denied for three years. “I am a tribal and I know their needs. I am focusing on my core strength with a simple appeal,” he said, while campaigning at Chorimala village in Bhiloda.
Accompanied by his wife, a retired government employee, and two other supporters, Solanki has been going around distributing two books and a pamphlet among the people. Written by the man himself, the books explain who are tribals and what are their constitutional rights.
In 2009, Solanki secured 28,135 votes, enough to change the result where Mistry lost by 17,160 votes. He is confident of pulling it off again. “I may get more votes compared to last year as Vaghela is considered to be an outsider and he does not have a base here,” he claimed.
Of the 16.12 lakh voters of this constituency, 17-18% are tribals, mostly belonging to the salaried class, especially working with security forces and the state government.
“I am a retired government employee and a local. I know there are people who will either vote for me or the Congress. They will never vote for BJP,” added Solanki.
Latif, however, is confident of causing an upset. “I know I am not a local. But, my party has a huge team of workers. I am confident of mass support as people are not happy with both the parties,” he said while on the campaign trail at Modasa. Incidentally, Muslims constitute around 10% of the total vote here.
SP has been campaigning against the so-called Gujarat model of development and highlighting failures of the Congress. “We may be a small player. But, SP’s performance will be crucial for the outcome,” said Latif with confidence.
There are a few things on which Congress and BJP agreed though. Both parties claimed that the 2009 result for Solanki was a one-off thing. “It’s the way his name appeared on the EVM that helped him. His name was last on the machine. So, illiterate people thought its first from the bottom and they voted,” said the Congress as well as the BJP leaders.
Solanki, however, denounced such claims. “People here are smart. If they can vote for a Congress or BJP-supported candidate in gram panchayat elections where party symbols are not used, they can vote for anyone. Opposition claims have no logic,” he said.
Latif also happens to be is the relative of Latif of Ahmedabad. Locals claimed that he was out there to avenge Latif’s encounter death during Congress rule. His brother contested from Panchmahals against Vaghela and played a role in his defeat. However, Arif does not want to get into the controversy. “This is a controversial issue. The media are raising a hue and cry over it. I got a mandate from the party and so I am contesting. Can we move on please?”
For an outsider, Vaghela looks certain to win the seat. But there may be surprises in store. We will have to wait till May 16 to know the real winner here in Sabarkantha.