BJP in throes of unprecedented rebellion in Gujarat, Himachal

The BJP burnt its fingers in Himachal where rebels were in fray in 21 of the total 68 seats when the state went to polls earlier this month. The malaise has now spread to Gujarat as the party is fighting rebellion on at least 10 pc of the total 182 seats in the state, reports Aayush Goel

Though confident of its win in states of Himachal and Gujarat, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fighting an unprecedented battle against party rebels. Though it’s part of the game for leaders sulking or revolting when denied tickets in elections, it’s probably for the first time that the lotus wagon is facing a large-scale revolt. What triggered in Himachal Pradesh has now spread to Gujarat which goes to polls on December 1 and 5 as the party struggles to keep its house together while waiting for results on December 8. The party has burnt its fingers in Himachal as 21 rebels (68 member assembly) from party were in fray while state voted earlier this month and cracks are wide open over CM candidature. Things are no different in Gujarat as the party is fighting rebellion on at least 10 percent of the seats in the 182-member assembly.

19 leaders suspended

Having ruled the state for 27 years with party leaders always accepting the high command’s decisions without a question, BJP had to suspend 19 rebels in Gujarat. While seven were suspended after filing of the nomination papers for the first phase of elections and the remaining 12 after the second phase nominations after attempts to pacify and convince them otherwise failed. While most rebels are in fray as independent candidates three chose Congress and one went on to AAP. Those on Congress’s side are Khatubhai Pagi (Shehra seat), Chhatrasinh Gunjariya (Dhrangadhra) and Kuldeepsinh Raulji (Savli). Raulji is being deemed as a major loss to the party. He is a director at the Baroda Dairy and very popular in Savli. He debuted and won as an independent candidate in 2009 and then went on to join BJP in 2012 recording a win then and repeating it in 2017. Ketan Patel, a tribal leader from the Pardi constituency in Valsad district has switched to AAP. In the Padra constituency of the Vadodara district, Dinesh Patel alias Dinu Mama, a former two-term BJP MLA is contesting as independent. He has been a winner for a party that has managed to bag the seat every term since 1985 until 2017 when it went to congress. Last election’s loss is being cited as a reason for denial of ticket to Patel. Patel’s exit would impact the voting patterns in the Padra constituency, where he is still said to have a support base. Politician, actor and producer Madhu Shrivastav too has gone independent this elections. Shrivastav is the sitting Waghodia MLA since 1995. BJP’s Harshad Vasava, a former two-time MLA and the president of its tribal cell, has filed his nomination papers as an independent candidate from Nandod in Narmada district. In Lunawada of Mahisagar district, the BJP suspended SM Khant and JP Patel, both of whom filed nominations as independents. The party suspended Ramesh Zala and Amarsinh Zala in Anand for filing nominations against party candidates from Umreth and Khambhat constituencies respectively. Rebellion is rampant even in North Gujarat territories like Mehsana, Patan, Banaskantha, Aravalli, Sabarkantha and Gandhinagar districts. The party has suspended several party leaders here including Dhavalsinh Zala, Ramsinh Thakor, Mavji Desai and Lebaji Thakor who are now fighting as independent candidates. In the Saurashtra region, BJP leaders Arvind Ladani, Bharat Chavda, Uday Shah and Karan Baraiya have been suspended from the party.

Party betrayed us: Rebels

“The party has betrayed us. I am a north Indian so I was sacrificed. In some cases people who gave their entire life to the party lost tickets to congress turncoats. They have been trying to pacify me but I have more responsibility towards people who have always voted for me. I will fight and win as an independent for them,” says Waghodia MLA Madhu Srivastava. Srivastava refused to meet state minister Harsh Sanghavi, who had been dispatched to Vadodara by the high command to soothe rebels. Others who boycotted damage control meetings with him were Dinesh ‘Dinu Mama’ Patel and Satish Nishaliya. “The party is betraying us all and are overlooking all committed workers. If they don’t need us even we don’t need them,” said Harshad Vasava who is contesting from Nandod as an Independent after quitting as BJP Scheduled Tribe Morcha president.

BJP is now Congress Yukt: Rebels

One of the key reasons for rebellion is being cited as the BJP giving tickets to almost all the MLAs who crossed over from Congress at the cost of their own candidates. BJP leader from Karjan Satish Patel says he was ignored for the sitting MLA Akshay Patel, who defected from the Congress in 2020. “They started fighting for Congress mukt Gujarat but now we are Congress yukt BJP. They have ignored old party leaders for Congress imports and turncoats in name of winnability. We kept the party in power here for 27 years and now we cannot win?” he quips. Amongst the ‘imports, the most noted are Hardik Patel who shot to fame as the leader of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), the agitating group demanding reservation for patidars or the patel community. Known for his brickbats for the BJP while in Congress, he is now with the saffron party and its candidate from Viramgam seat near Ahmedabad. Alpesh Thakor, who was also with the Congress in the last polls and was part of the opposition and played a major part in reducing BJP’s winning margins, has also moved to the BJP and is the party’s candidate from the Gandhinagar south assembly constituency.

Reconciliation efforts fail

While senior party leaders dismiss the possibility of the rebels denting the prospects of official candidates, they are leaving no stone unturned to pacify them. In addition to regular reconciliation meetings, PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are intervening to tone down protests and angry statements by leaders. Shah professed a “love and compassion” approach for rebels asking senior party leaders to hold one-on-one discussions with discontented leaders. The rebels however want nothing but tickets and the party is in no mood to bow. “More than 4,000 people applied for a ticket, but the party can’t hand it out to everyone. Party and organisation is above individual leaders and those who believe that they define a party’s victory in any area will soon have an answer. There are many criteria for tickets and “winnability” tops it. What will we achieve if we cannot secure a victory? Second is giving new people a chance. In many cases, candidates have been fighting for two decades and now need to create space for young people. Rebels will soon realise their mistake and be back home. This will not impact the party’s prospects in the state,” said Jayantibhai Kavadiya, state BJP vice-president.

Trouble still brewing in Himachal

While BJP is busy dousing fire in Gujarat, rebellion continues to simmer in Himachal even after polling. While the party was expecting the storm to have died down with voting, the rebels or independent candidates planned to create a pressure group and bring the party to its knees.

Independent candidates are fancying their chances if the assembly election results present a hung house. Three BJP rebels who fought the elections as independent candidates, namely Kirpal Singh Parmar (Fatehpur), Manohar Dhiman (Indora) and Sanjay Prashar (Jaswan Pragpur), held a meeting recently. Sources say that to form a pressure group, these candidates have contacted Jagjivan Pal, a former Congress MLA from Sullah, who had also contested the elections as an independent candidate after the party denied him ticket. Audio clips of conversations among the BJP leaders which have been shared multiple times point towards the fact that the party may not be able to come to power amid resentment over wrong distribution of tickets, swapping of assembly constituencies and other factors.

One amongst the most viral is allegedly that of former BJP MLA from Dalhousie, Renu Chaddha, who was denied a ticket this time. She can be heard saying that Congress will form a government in the state as the party ignored local leaders. She is reportedly heard saying that local leaders fighting as independent would defeat ‘outsiders’ who were given tickets from various constituencies like Arki, Dalhousie, Fatehpur, Nalagarh, Sujanpur, Jwalamukhi and Dehra. A Congress turncoat, working party president and sitting MLA, Pawan Kajal, who was given a BJP ticket from Kangra has alleged sabotage and written to party President JP Nadda. The BJP leader, in a letter to the party chief JP Nadda, named three Kangra party office bearers who allegedly indulged in anti-party activities and supported the Congress nominees in three constituencies. Former cabinet minister Gulab Singh Thakur, who was denied a ticket from Joginder Nagar, in a now viral audio, alleged that tickets were sold by the BJP. Former chief minister Shanta Kumar has also been hinting that wrong ticket distribution could cost the party. Nobody can forget the viral audio.