Ahmedabad | The Jasdan Assembly bypoll in Gujarat will indicate if the Congress still has the backing of the numerically strong Koli community or if it will stand by five-time MLA Kunvarji Bavaliya, who switched sides and joined the ruling BJP.
The December 20 bypoll to the seat was necessitated after sitting MLA Bavaliya quit the opposition Congress to join the BJP and also resigned from the Assembly in July. The BJP has now fielded Bavaliya for the bypoll against Congress candidate Avsar Nakiya.
The seat has been a pocket borough of Bavaliya, a prominent leader of the OBC Koli community, who was earlier elected five times from the seat on Congress’ ticket. He kept on winning the seat even when Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat.
Bavaliya, also a one-term MP, is now a Cabinet minister in the Vijay Rupani-led Gujarat government. The Jasdan constituency, located in Rajkot district, has a considerable 35 per cent Koli voters.
The byelection has become a prestige battle for the Congress as well as the BJP, which got a drubbing in the recently held Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Assembly polls. The BJP is pinning hopes on Kolis to rally behind it in support of their leader.
On the other side, the Congress is hoping that despite Bavaliya quitting the party, the Koli community, which has been its traditional vote bank, will continue to back it. Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda, Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani and several BJP state ministers and leaders are camping in Jasdan ahead of the bypoll.
“The Koli community has been with the Congress and will remain with it. People of Gujarat will never tolerate a deserter like Kunvarji Bavaliya,” Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi told PTI. “This is a prestige battle and the Congress will win it on the basis of high moral ground. This is a fight between a betrayer and a party loyalist,” he said.
Congress nominee Avsar Nakiya, who was once a protege of Bavaliya and also hails from the Koli community, expressed confidence of winning the bypoll. “For the people of Jasdan, party is above person and I am going to win here,” Nakiya said.
However, Bavaliya said the people of Jasdan had been electing him and “not the Congress party”. “I will win this byelection with a thumping majority,” he said.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani also expressed confidence that the BJP will win the bypoll. The Koli community dominates in 15 to 18 Assembly segments in Saurashtra area of Gujarat.
For the BJP, it has become important to attract this Other Backward Class (OBC) community which has traditionally backed the Congress so far in most of these seats. The counting of votes for the bypoll will be held on December 23.