Bayad (Guj): More than local issues and anti-incumbency, the outcome of the polls in the Bayad Assembly constituency in Gujarat’s Aravalli district could be determined by the ability of a turncoat politician to dent into the votes of the traditional contenders – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.
Former Gujarat Chief Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela’s son Mahendrasinh, who was elected to the Assembly from Bayad on a Congress ticket in 2012 but later switched over to the BJP, is this time fighting the polls from the seat as the candidate of the main opposition party.
The Bayad seat, considered a Congress stronghold, in North Gujarat will go to polls in the second phase on December 5.
While Mahendrasinh Vaghela of the Congress and BJP nominee Bhikiben Parmar are being seen as the main contenders for the seat, an influential Independent candidate, DhavalsinH Zala, is hogging limelight and is likely to play a key role in the final outcome.
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Bayad is one of the three Assembly seats in Aravalli district and all of them were won by Congress in the 2017 assembly polls.
The constituency has around 2,30,000 voters, of whom 56 percent are from the Thakor community; the Scheduled Castes (SCs) comprise seven percent, whereas the Scheduled Tribes (STs) account for two percent of the electorate. The remaining electors are from the Patel community.
Nearly 89 percent of the voters live in rural areas, and the district’s economy revolves around agriculture and small businesses.
The Thakor community in the area has been committed voters of the Congress for the last several elections, except in 2007 when the BJP had won from Bayad. The Congress wrested the Assembly segment in 2012 with Mahendrasinh Vaghela as its MLA and retained the seat in 2017 when its candidate Dhavalsinh Zala emerged victorious.
However, in both cases, Congress couldn’t retain its sitting MLAs as they switched over to the BJP. Mahendrasinh Vaghela switched loyalty to the BJP in 2019, while Zala joined the saffron outfit after the Rajya Sabha polls in 2019.
Despite defections, Congress retained the seat in the 2019 by-election.
But as history repeats itself, Mahendrasinh Vaghela returned to the Congress fold last month and is contesting from Bayad. Shankarsinh Vaghela, a veteran figure in Gujarat politics, is himself camping in the constituency and campaigning for his son to boost his chances of getting elected.
“I am confident of retaining the seat for my party. The people of Gujarat are fed up with the misrule of the BJP, and they want a change,” Mahendrasinh Vaghela told PTI.
The BJP, campaigning on the poll plank of development, is hopeful of winning back the seat.
“The Congress in the last 10 years has done nothing for this constituency (Bayad). The farmers here are deprived of basic facilities. Only the BJP can bring in development in the area,” BJP candidate Parmar said.
However, the key to the victory seems to be with Zala, who is contesting as an Independent and is vice-president of the Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena. This outfit champions the rights of the Thakor community.
Zala, considered close to Thakor community leader Alpesh Thakor, had cross-voted during the 2019 Rajya Sabha election and later resigned from the Congress to join the BJP.
He, however, lost the subsequent by-election from Bayad to the Congress candidate.
The BJP, this time, decided to drop Zala and give the ticket to a woman leader, Bhikiben Parmar.
Infuriated over the party’s decision, Zala’s supporters stormed the Gujarat BJP headquarters in Gandhinagar to register their protest over denial of ticket to him. However, the BJP leadership stood its ground.
Zala claimed he had the support of more than 80 percent of the electorate in the constituency. “Despite losing in the 2019 by-election, I have been working in the area, and I enjoy the support of the majority of the electorate, including the Thakor community. I will win from this seat,” he said.
Although the BJP and the Congress officially declined to attach much importance to his candidature, sources in both the parties said they are apprehensive about Zala’s clout among the Thakor community.
“Dhavalsinh has to start from scratch to win the election. He is not a factor in this election. It is a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP,” Harshad Patel, BJP’s convenor of the Bayad Assembly seat, said.
A local Congress leader, who did not wish to be named, said the party is apprehensive that Zala might eat into its votes among the Thakor community.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which, too, is contesting the polls, is not an important factor in the Assembly segment.
The demand for a hike in Minimum Support Price (MSP) of farm products has been a major poll issue in Bayad, primarily a rural constituency.
The first phase of voting in Gujarat covering 89 Assembly seats took place on December 1, while the remaining 93 constituencies (total 182) will go to polls on December 5. The votes will be counted on December 8.