Congress party scored another big catch on Friday after Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani said he’ll ask his supporters to vote against BJP in the poll-bound state
The battle for Gujarat is warming up and the Congress party, which has been out of power in the state for 22 long years, is leaving nothing to chance when it comes to its efforts of wresting the BJP-ruled state which is also the home state of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
Whether the grand old party’s campaign, being led by party vice president Rahul Gandhi, will actually help the Congress finally return to power in the state that has been a BJP bastion for over two decades is something that will be revealed only on December 18 when votes for the crucial polls are counted.
However, in the electorally charged environment of Gujarat, political allegations are flying high while the Congress continues with its quest for new allies and the BJP fights to retain its citadel.
On Friday, Hardik Patel – the face of the state’s raging Patidar Andolan who recently announced his support for the Congress in the state – alleged that the BJP would resort to “golmaal” (fraudulent means) to win the Gujarat polls. Patel claimed that the Election Commission had found glitches in 3550 voter verified paper audit trails (VVPAT) dispatched for the state. The VVPAT is a device which ensures that voters have a chance to check whether the vote cast by them has been registered in the electronic voting machine in favour of the their candidate or not and is being used for the first time in the Gujarat assembly polls by the Election Commission.
The Patidar Andolan leader also alleged that the BJP had “prepared a doctored sex CD to defame me and it will be released just before the election”; a serious charge by any standard but one which the state’s BJP leadership has maintained a studied silence on.
Patel’s allegations came on a day when the Congress scored a big catch in the poll-bound state after popular Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani said he was “very satisfied with the assurances” given to him by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi during their meeting in Navsari on Friday evening. Mevani, who has been leading a massive agitation by the state’s numerically significant Dalit population, declared that he would ask his supporters to “not vote for the BJP” in the upcoming elections.
Although Mevani said that he wasn’t formally joining Rahul’s party but would continue to have talks with its leaders, his remark of asking his supporters to vote against the BJP can be viewed as his endorsement of the Congress as Gujarat is a bi-polar state with the key electoral players being the BJP and the Congress.
The Congress had, in October, managed to rope in another popular youth leader Alpesh Thakore – an activist leading the electorally crucial OBC community against chief minister Vijay Rupani’s government in Gujarat. Thakore has formally joined the Congress and is also likely to contest the polls on the party’s ticket.
With the troika of Hardik, Jignesh and Alpesh on its side, the Congress is hoping to secure electoral support of the Patel, Dalit and OBC communities in Gujarat and be propelled to the seat of power in the state.
Hardik, Congress leaders feel, would be their biggest strength in Gujarat, provided he delivers on his promise of rallying the state’s around 15 per cent Patel/Patidar electorate behind the grand old party. The Patels have been BJP voters for the past two decades and are seen as the prime reason for the saffron party’s continued stint in power in Gujarat.
The Patidar Andolan leader has been touring the state for months, making combative speeches against the BJP and continuously raising his demand of reservations for members of his community on the basis of their “economic backwardness”. When he isn’t busy engaging with the people, Hardik takes to Twitter and other social media platforms to lash out against the BJP, thereby also helping the Congress’ social media campaign to counter the saffron party.
His allegation on the BJP’s “golmaal” in the Gujarat polls was also made on Twitter.
Surprisingly though, while the BJP chose to remain quiet on Patel’s allegation, the Election Commission did issue a clarification. Election Commissioner OP Rawat, conceded that “the normal failure rate during the first-level check of EVMs/VVPATs is 3-4 per cent” but in Gujarat, with a total 70,182 VVPAT-enabled EVMs deployed by EC this “slightly higher failure rate of 5 per cent… may be explained by first-time handling of the VVPAT-enabled EVMs by the staff.”
Chief electoral officer of Gujarat BB Swain refuted Patel’s charge while asserting that “discovery of defective VVPATs should be taken in a positive manner” and that the defective VVPAT machines were “already sent back to the factories for repair.”