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Gujarat heads for a straight Cong-BJP fight

VK Chakravarti

Ahmdeabad, Aug 30: Elections to the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat are likely to redraw the bottomline of the committed voters of both BJP and Congress as in all probability it is heading for a straight contest between the two mainstream outfits.

Unlike several other states especially in the cow belt, only 159 candidates are in the fray for the 26 seats with an average of a little over six for each seat. The number or the smallness of it does not indicate any lack of enthusiasm among the candidates.

While BJP and the Congress are going it alone, there are 56 Independents, candidates belonging to other political parties contesting the remaining 51 seats.

They are Nationalist Congress Party, Samajwadi Party, Loktantrik Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena, Bahujan Samaj, CPI, RPI, JD (U) and JD (S). But none of them is likely to make any significant dent in the vote bank of the two main parties.

Rather, as has happened in the past, some Independent candidates from the tribal belt may even pose a threat to thestalwarts.

In the current election too, least number of candidates are from seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST) or Scheduled Castes (SC) or from seats with predominance of tribals, they being Godhra and Banaskantha (Three each), Patan, Dahod, Kheda and Junagadh (four each).

Traditionally too, there has been no place for third force in the state ever, at least not for long, since its bifurcation from Bombay State in 1960.

In the last LS election in 1998, BJP and the Congress contested in 26 and 25 seats, polled 48.28 and 36.49 per cent of total seats and won 19 and seven seats respectively.

All India Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP) led by the charismatic Shankarsinh Vaghela, also contested in as many as 20 seats and polled 10.21 per cent of total votes but drew a blank as far as winning any seat is concerned. Surprisingly, the only RJP candidate to be able to make it to the Lower House was from Bihar.

The RJP performance in the last Vidhan Sabha elections, held in Feburary 1998, was a shade betterthan in LS. They won four seats in the 182-seat state legislative assembly.

RJP carved out of BJP Legislative Party in 1995, dethroning the then BJP Chief Minister Sureshchandra Mehta, has been disbanded by its founder president Vaghela a few months back. Realising the futility of continuing as a third force in Gujarat, RJP's founder president Vaghela announced the merger of the entire outfit with the Congress in May last after Sonia Gandhi took reigns of the party.

In the previous Lok Sabha elections from Gujarat too, it was Janata Dal's Gujarat unit led by late Chimanbhai Patel in 1989 that fared the best as a third force, albit in seat adjustment with BJP. While JD contested 14 seats and won 11, polling 27.16 per cent of total votes, BJP fielded 12 candidates and won all the 12, polling 30.47 per cent of votes. It was because of Chimanbhai Patel's spectacular organisational skills that he was fondly called `Chhote Sardar' for his resemblance in style to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

The 1989 Lok Sabhaelection was perhaps the year of worst performance by Congress in Gujarat. Although it fielded candidates from all the 26 seats and polled 37.16 per cent of votes but won only three seats.

The only other third political force, called Rashtriya Congress, to be ever formed in Gujarat was by a former Congressman Ratubhai Adani in other Lok Sabha elections was as lucklustre. Obviously, it could not send any candidate to Lok Sabha, during its short existence.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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