At least seven legislators who have won the Gujarat Assembly elections five or more times are seeking a term again in the state polls scheduled next month. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has reposed faith in five of the leaders by fielding them for yet another term, while one has sought to contest as an independent.
These five candidates fielded by the BJP are Yogesh Patel (Manjalpur seat), Pabubha Manek (Dwarka), Keshu Nakrani (Gariadhar), Purshottam Solanki (Bhavnagar rural) and Pankaj Desai (Nadiad). Apart from them, Bharatiya Tribal Party’s (BTP) founder Chhotu Vasava and Madhu Shrivastav, who has been denied a ticket by the BJP, are contesting as independent candidates.
These leaders have been able to establish a rapport with party workers and supporters over decades. The caste equations also favour them, but more than that, it is their personal leadership qualities that stand them in good stead, political analysts say.
Elections for the 182-member Gujarat Assembly will be held in two phases on December 1 and 5 and the counting of votes will be taken up on December 8.
Patel, Manek and Vasava have won the Assembly polls seven times and are contesting for an eighth term.
Nakrani and Shrivastav have won six elections, and expect to win for the seventh time. Desai and Solanki have won five elections and are in the poll race for the sixth time.
Their experience of working at the grassroots level and special rapport with their party workers over decades gives them a distinct edge over the others, a political analyst from Ahmedabad Shirish Kashikar told PTI. Yogesh Patel, 76, started his winning streak in 1990 when he contested from the Raopura Assembly seat for the Janata Dal. Though the BJP has said it will not give party tickets to those aged over 75, Patel is the only exception in Gujarat.
At 76, he also holds the distinction of being the oldest candidate for the BJP.
He won five elections from Raopura before being fielded from Manjalpur when the new seat was formed in 2012 after delimitation. He won twice from Manjalpur and seeks to win the third one from the seat this time.
Patel had served as a minister of state in the previous Vijay Rupani government.
For Pabubha Manek, the seven-time MLA and BJP candidate from Dwarka, his latest tenure as a legislator was embroiled in a legal tussle with his Assembly membership invalidated over his election affidavit issue.
He was disqualified as an MLA after the Gujarat High Court invalidated his election in 2019 and ordered a bypoll. The Supreme Court had refused to grant him any relief but directed that the Dwarka Assembly seat should not be declared vacant.
Earlier, after winning as an independent candidate in 1990, 1995 and 1998, Manek emerged victorious in the 2002 election on the Congress’s ticket. In 2007, he contested as the BJP candidate.
Another veteran in the election arena is tribal leader Chhotu Vasava, who first won from the Jhagadia seat in the Bharuch district as the Janata Dal (JD) candidate in 1990.
He won the next election as an independent. In 1998, he won as the JD candidate before contesting subsequent elections on the Janata Dal (United) ticket. In 2017, he floated the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) which he represented in the election that year and won.
When he was recently replaced by his son Mahesh Vasava from the seat as a BTP candidate for the upcoming poll, his supporters compelled him to file for nomination as an independent, indicating his stronghold over his supporters.
A few days back, Mahesh Vasava withdrew his nomination and his father now stands to contest the election as an independent, something he did in 1995.
Chhotu Vasava had also unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha election from the Bharuch seat three times – in 2004, 2009, and 2019.
Madhu Shrivastav, having the image of a strongman from Vaghodia, is also not ready to give up even as the BJP, the party he represented for five terms, decided not to field him for the upcoming election.
He is now contesting as an independent candidate.
Shrivastav won his first election as an independent, before joining the BJP and winning in 1998, 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017. In the past, he also courted controversies, including allegedly threatening a witness in the Best Bakery case after the Godhra riots.
Keshu Nakrani is looking forward to a victory for the seventh time from the Gariadhar seat in the Bhavnagar district. He won as the BJP candidate from 1995 to 2007 from the Sihor seat, and in 2012 and 2017 and Gariadhar after the new seat came into existence following delimitation.
Koli community leader Purshottam Solanki is contesting from Bhavnagar rural for a sixth term. He represented the Ghogho seat in the Bhavnagar district three times from 1998 till 2007, before the seat was removed in delimitation. He then represented Bhavnagar rural seat twice in 2012 and 2017.
He was named in an alleged Rs 400-crore fisheries scam dating back to 2008 when he was the fisheries minister.
Solanki has a strong hold over the Koli community, which makes up a sizable population of the region.
BJP’s Nadiad MLA Pankaj Desai also holds the distinction of winning five consecutive elections since 1998 and being the party’s chief whip since 2010. This time, he again got the ticket from Nadiad in central Gujarat. ”Most of these candidates have risen from being grassroots workers and their loyalty towards the party has brought them to where they are,” analyst Kashikar said.
For example, Yogesh Patel was a BJP worker since the Jana Sangh days and in all these years he never switched loyalty despite there being phases of struggle, he said.
The rapport these candidates share with their supporters also plays an important role in giving them the invincibility factor that they enjoy, he said.