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In Mumbai, BJP is axing its Gujrati strongmen to make a way for new leadership

“The Gujarati community knows that it is no longer voting for anyone else but directly voting for Narendra Modi,” said Gujarati leader from the Mumbai BJP

Mumbai: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gujarati leadership in Mumbai was ecstatic at having two Gujarati leaders take over the party’s reins, nationally around five years back. The leadership celebrated it and believed that finally they will be rewarded for their work.

After the axing of six-time party MLA Prakash Mehta, the BJP, under the Modi-Shah leadership, has axed the entire Gujarati leadership of the BJP’s state unit that had given thumping majority.

Some believe that its an attempt to create new leadership; others say that this is a sign that the party believes its popularity allows it to junk senior community leaders and yet, regain the community’s support.

Many Gujarati leaders who have faced unceremonious exits from the party including 60-year-old Prakash  Mehta, former MLA, and 65-year-old two-time MP Kirit Somaiya.

More than the denial of tickets, it is the manner in which they were denied tickets that have raised questions within the party. both Mehta and Somaiya were incumbent representatives that are currently dropped.

Upcoming assembly election Mehta’s name was dropped and the ticket was given to richest corporate Parag Shah, who had joined the party only two years ago. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Kirit Somaiya, an MP from Mumbai’s North East constituency, was asked to step down and make way for another candidate after ally Shiv Sena expressed its displeasure over him. Somaiya, in the past, had attacked the Thackeray family’s hold over the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) by calling it as Mafia of Bandra.

In this election, Somaiya had asked for an Assembly ticket for his wife, Medha, but his request was not fulfilled.

The BJP, which always played the second party to the Sena,  five years ago had consolidated its vote banks in Mumbai’s Gujarati and the North Indian communities. This vote bank has allowed it to wrest a handful of Gujarati-dominated Assembly constituencies in Mumbai very easily. One of these was Ghatkopar, where Mehta came to dominate politics as a six-time MLA, who got elected since 1990.

“In the 1980s, when the BJP started expanding, the Shiv Sena was already wrestling with the Congress for the Marathi vote bank. The other linguistic minorities, like Gujaratis, Marwaris and even Hindi-speaking populations, did not have much representation.

The party has grown a lot and created a string of strong Gujarati-speaking leaders hold like former MP Jaywantiben Mehta and Hemendra Mehta.

But, the party’s engagement with the community did not always work in its favor. Its own ally, the Shiv Sena, has often taken potshots at the BJP and alluded it to a party of Gujaratis. This came after when the two allies fought the last Assembly election separately. The Sena, in its campaign, targetted the BJP as a party for ‘outsiders’, while calling itself the true representative of the ‘native Maharashtrians.

Shiv Sena leader and the President of Bruhanmumbai Gujarati Samaj, Hemraj Shah an umbrella body for various Gujarati bodies, says that there is near-total backing from Gujarati community to the prime minister’s rise. “the community supported the Congress, till 2004. But, with Modi’s rise, as the Prime Minister, the shifted to the BJP now,” said Hemraj Shah.

Shah said, “all other parties want the Gujarati vote, but since the Gujaratis don’t vote for any other party but the BJP, no other party allows Gujarati leaders to rise and as a result, the BJP’s grip on the community is completely unchallenged.”

After complete swipe, the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year, the party’s confidence is at a very high. “Even if some prominent leaders are dropped, the Gujarati community prefer any other party and stick to the BJP as it is the favoured party. The Gujarati community knows that it is no longer voting for the local leaders but that it is directly voting for Narendra Modi,” said Gujarati leader from the Mumbai BJP.

The leaders who are dropped have realized this none of them have threatened to walk out, nor show any dissent at not being given the ticket. Somaiya said that the party was taking care of all its leaders,  whether the ticket is allotted or not. “The party has to expand its base. Party is trying to inject the young generation and cultivates younger leaders,” referring to Manoj Kotak, nearly two decades his junior he said.

But some of BJP’s old guards are being not promised tickets instead of that they are asked to step down. so that means all are not denied ticket or positions.

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