By Saroj Sharma
While the Maharashtra victory of the Congress-NCP combine may have been a foregone conclusion, there'sbeen a surprise upset for the ruling party in the neighbouring state which nobody seems to be talking about. For astute political observers, the Gujarat by-election results should be giving sleepless nights to the Congress top brass. The Narendra Modi-led BJP has managed to bag two of the five seats which went to the polls. But what is notable about this tally is that all the five seats were hitherto Congress strongholds. In fact, by-elections to four of these seats had to be held precisely because the candidates earlier representing these seats won during the Lok Sabha elections and are now Congress MPs in the Lok Sabha. These include Tushar Chaudhary, son of late Congress heavyweight Amarsinh Chaudhary from Vyara, Bharat Solanki, son of former Congress CM Madhavsinh Solanki from Borasad, Vikram Madan from Bhanvad and Kisan Patel from Dharampur. By-elections for the Khedbrahma seat, another Congress bastion, had to be held on account of the death of erstwhile Congress state unit president, Amarsinh Chaudhary.
After the drubbing that the BJP received in Gujarat in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, the widespread perception was that the Congress would retain all the five seats which were going in for by-elections. Therefore when the BJP candidates Ramila Bara and Malubhai Bera managed to wrest these seats from the Congress, the clear political message that it immediately sent was that Gujarat was, and still remains, a Hindu citadel. Nowhere was this more evident as in Khedbrahma, a traditional Congress stronghold nursed over the years by Congress heavyweights, including late Amarsinh Chaudhary, which the BJP has been able to snatch by a wafer-thin margin of 600 votes. Confessed a state Congress leader on the condition of anonymity, ?The Khedbrahma result has been both shocking and demoralising.?
What is also noteworthy about the by-election result is that it comes at a time when there is a perceived UPA wave in most parts of the country. ?Obviously it shows that at the grassroots level, represented by tribal areas like Khedbrahma and to some extent Bhanvad, an Ahir-dominated area, the BJP is rapidly gaining ground.
The by-elections also send out another message loud and clear: For all the efforts that are being made to tarnish Chief Minister Narendra Modi ever since the Godhra riots two years ago, he is no pushover. And the sooner the Congress accepts this reality, the better it is.