With the Congress finally announcing the name of Aziz Tankarvi as its candidate from Bharuch parliamentary constituency, the stage is set for an interesting electoral battle for the seat. Tankarvi is pitted against the outgoing Bharuch MP, BJP's Mansukh Vasava, who has already won from here thrice.
The Bharuch seat, which has been with the BJP for more than two decades, would have again gone to the saffron party, had it not been for two new developments. The Bharuch seat was a reserved seat (for the Scheduled Tribes) till the 2004 elections but, after the recent delimitation exercise, it was 'de-reserved'.
Secondly, the Janata Dal (United) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) are also in the fray from here and both the parties are banking on the large number of Muslim voters in the constituency. The JD-U had contested from Bharuch in earlier Lok Sabha elections, too, but the SP is a new entrant.
The fact that the BJP has decided to field Mansukh Vasava from Bharuch even after Bharuch has lost the reservation cover, bears testimony to the party's confidence in Vasava's political skills. The outgoing Bharuch MP is a highly educated man - he has a masters degree in Social Work - and has a clean image.
Moreover, the saffron party has traditionally been strong in the urban areas of Bharuch, particularly Bharuch town and Ankleshwar. Local BJP workers are optimistic that because of all these factors, Vasava will win the seat for the fourth consecutive time.
Gujarat JD-U president and Jhagadia MLA, Chhotu Vasava, had contested from Bharuch in the 2004 polls, too. He intends to fight from the same seat once again. He is unlikely to win but, as in the last elections, he is expected to make it difficult for the Congress to win the seat.
The SP has fielded former BJP Rajya Sabha MP, Kanaksinh Mangrola, from Bharuch.
Mangrola's entry into the fray as an SP candidate can change political equations in the constituency. He has strongholds of support in and around Bharuch and is capable of bagging a few thousand votes, which might swing the results either way. Moreover, Mangrola is close to JD-U's Chhotu Vasava and some sort of understanding between them cannot be ruled out.
Congress candidate Aziz Tankarvi is a writer and journalist who has edited the Ahmedabad-based Gujarati daily, 'Gujarat Today', for the last 18 years. 'Gujarat Today' is considered the voice of Gujarati Muslims.
Tankarvi also looks after the social work done by the Al Amin trust which also publishes the newspaper. Long known for his pro-Congress views, he belongs to Tankaria village of Bharuch district.
The Bharuch parliamentary constituency comprises the assembly segments of Bharuch, Ankleshwar, Karjan, Dediapada, Jambusar, Vagra and Jhagadia. It is estimated that ST voters account for nearly 37% of the total electorate, while OBC voters comprise 18% of the total number of voters in Bharuch. About 16% of the voters of the constituency are from the minority community.
In the 2007 assembly elections, the Congress won three out of the seven assembly segments in Bharuch. Local Congress workers claim that the party would get most of the votes in the Karjan assembly segment (now part of Bharuch) and this, they believe, would place the party in a winning position.
Congress workers further said that SP candidate Mangrola would cut into BJP votes as he is a former BJP MP. JD-U candidate Chhotu Vasava would also cut into the caste votes of BJP candidate Mansukh Vasava.
The BJP, however, appears undeterred by such threats to its voter base. Local BJP workers said that the 'Third Front' constituents will eat into Congress votes. The BJP is banking on 19 villages in Vadodara taluka whose voters are hardcore BJP supporters. Party workers said these voters will, to some extent, cut down the Congress lead in Karjan. Further, parts of Narmada will also vote for the saffron party, they said.
Some recent decisions by the state government are also expected to help the BJP in Bharuch. Of the four MLAs chosen for the posts of parliamentary secretary, two have strong links with Bharuch. Ankleshwar MLA Ishwar Patel was appointed parliamentary secretary as part of a strategy to strengthen the party candidate in Bharuch.
Similarly, BJP MLA from Rajpipla, Harshad Vasava, was made parliamentary secretary because most of Rajpipla falls in Bharuch parliamentary constituency. This, too, is expected to help the BJP candidate in Bharuch.