It is likely to be a battle of prestige as well as nerves in Mehsana Lok Sabha constituency in Gujarat where the BJP is appealing to voters to elect the local nominee to make the son-of-soil Narendra Modi the prime minister as it faces a strong Congress candidate.
With Modi's hometown Vadnagar in Mehsana district falling under the constituency limits, the BJP is trying to exploit to hilt the emotional appeal with voters to get its candidate and sitting MP Jayshreeben Patel elected, realising that she faces a strong contender and Congress veteran Jivabhai Patel.
There are a total of 14.85 lakhs voters in Mehsana seat in north Gujarat, mostly dominated by Patel community. With a strong and politically sensitive force of more than 4.07 lakh Patel voters, Mehsana is considered as the epicentre of 'Patel-driven politics' in north Gujarat, keeping every candidate on their toes. The candidates are well aware how a tilt in Patel votes can make or mar their prospects. With Patels usually being loyal to the BJP in this part of Gujarat, the party is looking ahead to retain the seat and that is the reason it has fielded Jayashreeben once again.
Though a greenhorn in 2009, Jayshreeben emerged as a giant killer by defeating the Congress veteran Jivabhai Patel and is facing him this time as well. How close the contest was is evident from the slender margin of 20,000 votes Jayashreeben had had in 2009 over her Congress rival. BJP poll managers are very much aware that Jivabhai poses a formidable challenge and leaving nothing to chance. "It will prove to be a disaster if Jivabhai is taken lightly," said former state industries minister and BJP in-charge of Mehsana Lok Sabha seat Khodabhai Patel.
"Compared to Jayshreeben, Jivabhai is a seasoned and experienced politician who has command over several communities in Mehsana, particularly NRI Patel families. But luckily, our candidate is getting help from 'Modi wave' this time. In addition, Patel community is also backing BJP," he said. "Of course, BJP is seeking vote on Modi's name as he belongs to the district and can become the prime minister," Khodabhai said.
However, Vikram Patel, head of Unjha-based Umiya Mata Trust, the apex religious body of 7 lakh Patel families of north Gujarat, had earlier expressed unhappiness over Jayshreeben's candidature. BJP, which cannot afford to be in bad books of Vikram as he can decide the Patel vote swing, immediately rushed in its interlocutors to bring him along. "We held a meeting with Vikram Patel few days back to sort out the issue. Now, he is not having any qualms and extended his support to BJP," Khodabhai said, adding that the party is also banking on the support of 3.4 lakh-odd Thakor and Chaudhari votes.
"Traditionally, Thakors are always with Congress, but this time we are hoping to get support of 50 per cemt Thakors as they are now inclined towards BJP," said Khodabhai. On its part, Congress is counting on its traditional vote bank of Dalits (1.3 lakhs), Muslims (71,000). Congress' otherwise loyal voters from Rajput, Thakor and Patel communities stand divided this time. "This battle is all about Modi vs the Congress nominee and not between the candidates of BJP and Congress," a local Congress leader said. He said, "As Jivabhai is a strong candidate, the BJP is forced to vigorously push 'Modi as PM' agenda to balance the weight. BJP is also trying to make a dent in our traditional vote bank".
With the clock ticking down ahead of polls, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is holding a rally at Kheralu town in the district on April 24.