The Congress party, which could manage to win only six out of 35 seats in South Gujarat region in the 2017 State Assembly elections, is facing a tougher challenge this time around.
While its two tribal MLAs have deserted the party to join the BJP, the Congress’ alliance partner Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) which won two seats in Bharuch district, has joined hands with the Aam Aadmi Party. This is besides the presence of AIMIM queering the pitch for the opposition party.
Though the BJP, which won 27 seats in 2017, faces an irritant in the form of AAP in Surat city, the Congress has bigger challenges ahead.
However, the party hopes to improve its performance in the tribal areas on the strength of its recent success in forcing the Gujarat Government to roll back the much-touted Par-Tapi-Narmada Riverlink Project. Congress MLA Anant Patel had led a huge Adivasi agitation against the project.
The party’s campaign theme across all the Scheduled Tribe seats in Gujarat is that the BJP works against the interests of the Adivasis and is exploiting them. The Congress also plans to highlight the issue of pollution from chemical industries, which has severely impacted irrigation and farming in the region, especially around Bharuch and Surat.
Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) has tasked the district Presidents of Surat, Bharuch, Narmada, Navsari, Dang, Valsad, and Tapi in South Gujarat to identify local issues and prepare a regional campaign plan for the Gujarat elections.
There are 35 legislative seats in South Gujarat. BJP has 27 seats, Congress has 6 seats and BTP has two seats.
There are 15 assembly seats in Surat district, with BJP having won 14 seats leaving one for Congress in 2017.
Surat district president Anandbhai Chaudhary conceded that, “BJP and AAP are putting up a challenge for the Congress in Surat.
In the Surat Municipal Corporation elections held last year, AAP secured 28% votes, managing to win 27 seats out of 120 with the Congress scoring a zero as against 36 in the 2015 elections. The ruling BJP won 93 seats.
“Rapid urbanization, tackling migration and discharge of industrial wastes are major issues faced by the people of Surat. There are no sustainable steps taken by the government to tackle this”, Chaudhary added.
A senior Congress leader said Patidars voted for the AAP in the 2021 municipal elections despite the Congress appointing Hardik Patel, the face of Patidar agitation, as its working president in the state. Now Hardik Patel has left Congress. There is no Patel face for Congress as of now. So consolidating Patel votes around Surat and other regions is also a challenge.
The BJP won three out of six seats in this district, BTP bagged two and Congress got one. Now, the BTP has struck an alliance with AAP.
“Dahej Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region and the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporations (GIDCs) of Dahej and Vilayat in Bharuch district have highly hazardous mega chemical producing companies,” Tejpratapsinh Sokhi Bharuch district President told VO!.
He said, “The release of some chemicals such as Phenoxy compound has caused major damage to crops in the entire Bharuch region. Mostly cotton and pigeon pea crop in 70,000 hectares (ha) has been affected and the farmers are forced to destroy the crops. The BJP has not bothered to address this issue.”
Narmada & Tapi
There are two seats in Narmada, with one seat each of Congress and BTP.
Narmada district Congress president Haresh Valand said even when the tribals protested against government’s land acquisition for the development of the Kevadia tourism circuit and the opposition to the eco-sensitive zone status of 121 villages, BJP made a huge gain during the recent district and taluka panchayats in the region.
As for Tapi district, Congress bagged both the seats here in 2017.
However, Valand and Tapi district President Bhilabai Gamit confidently told VO! that in the 2022 assembly elections, Narmada-Tapi regional voters would go with the Congress because it took up their cause and got the riverlink project stopped.
“Tribals are in a bad shape, justice is denied to us. Water supply is not available for the Adivasis though the river passes through our area. There is no electricity either. The government writes off the debts of industrialists but does not provide jobs to tribal youth. They have seen through the game,” Gamit claimed.
Dangs district lone seat was won by the Congress in 2017 but its MLA, Mangal Gavit, has deserted the party to join the BJP.
Dangs district’s Congress president Motibhai Chaudhari told VO! that BJP and AAP were not at all a challenge for the Congress.
Around 6,500-hectare farmland would have been submerged in our district alone if the Par-Tapi-Narmada riverlink project was executed. The Congress party prevented it and the tribals know it well.
Navsari & Valsad
The BJP won three out of four seats in Navsari, which is the Lok Sabha constituency of Gujarat BJP President CR Paatil. The Congress got only one seat.
Speaking to VO!, Shailesh Patel, Navsari district president and Valsad district panchayat president Dinesh Patel said the BJP was the biggest challenge and AAP or AIMIM won’t affect the Congress’ prospects.
The Congress’ key campaign issue would be the severe water crisis in both the neighbouring districts. According to them, the increasing socio-economic backwardness, besides the falling primary school enrolment because of shortage of teachers are among other key issues.
These issues will be included in the Congress manifesto. The district leaders say that though Gujarat is an industrial state, the past 27 years of BJP governance worsened the living conditions of the common people.
Notwithstanding this, the BJP had won all the six assembly seats in Valsad district.