The electorate in the assembly constituencies of Kolebira in Jharkhand and Jasdan in Gujarat vote today in a bypoll. By 11 a.m., Kolebira had recorded a respectable 25.34 per cent turnout and a similar number had queued up to exercise its franchise in Jasdan. The counting of votes is on Sunday.
Both Kolebira, in Jharkhand's Simdega district, and Jasdan, in Gujarat's Rajkot, are interesting contests, as they come days after the results to the five Assembly polls, including that of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and barely three months before the Lok Sabha polls.
The results would indicate the public mood in these two states. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had won all 26 seats of Gujarat and 12 of Jharkhand’s 14. Subsequently, it had also won the Jharkhand Assembly polls that year.
However, the BJP had struggled to retain Gujarat in the December 2017 state assembly polls and faced significant anger anti-incumbency in rural areas, and among key communities, including the Patidars. The result of Jasdan in Gujarat could even determine the fate of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. In 2001, the BJP had replaced Keshubhai Patel with Narendra Modi after losses in bypolls then.
The results could indicate the efficacy of the Congress-led alliance in Jharkhand. The result could determine whether the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), which is involved in a hard bargain with Congress and its allies to be given the leadership role within the alliance, gets it way. The JMM is not supporting the Congress candidate in this contest.
In Kolebira, the BJP has fielded Basant Soreng. The Congess candidate is Viksal Kongadi, while the Jharkhand Party’s candidate is Menon Ekka. The seat fell vacant after a court convicted Jharkhand Party’s Enos Ekka, the sitting legislator, in a case of kidnapping and murder. He was a minister between 2005 and 2008 in governments, led by Arjun Munda, Madhu Koda and Shibu Soren respectively.
Jasdan in Gujarat is a prestige battle for the Congress and BJP. The Congress has been winning the seat since 2002. Its Bavaliya Kunvarjibhai Mohanbhai won the seat in 2002 and 2007, and again in 2017. In 2017, Bavaliya defeated BJP’s Bharat Kodabhai Boghara by nearly 9,000 votes. Bavaliya received 49 per cent vote share to Boghara’s 42 per cent.
However, Bavaliya quit the Congress and his seat to join the BJP, and was subsequently included in the Vijay Rupani cabinet. He is now contesting on a BJP ticket, and the Congress has fielded debutante Avsar Nakiya.
Both hail from the influential Koli community, which comprises nearly a sixth of the state’s population. Its support is crucial for both Congress and BJP in the 2019 polls. With Patidars upset with the BJP, it has tried to woo the Kolis in Gujarat.
In the run-up to the assembly polls in Gujarat in 2017, the BJP had made President Ram Nath Kovind tour the state to drum up support for itself in the koli community. Kovind is a koli from Uttar Pradesh. However, kolis in Uttar Pradesh are dalits, while they are part of the OBC list in Gujarat.
The battle is unlikely to be easy for the Congress. Bavaliya is a four-time legislator and one-time Member of Parliament. Nakiya, a former aide of Bavaliya’s, has studied up to class four and has made his son-of-the-soil image as his calling card during the election campaign.
Ahmed Patel, Congress treasurer, also Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat, is coordinating the party’s campaign. Its star campaigner, Navjot Singh Sidhu, also addressed public rallies in the constituency. Former Congress leader Shankarsinh Vaghela is also campaigning for the party.
To assuage rural voters and in the run up to the polls, the Rupani government on Tuesday announced a complete waiver of Rs 6.25 billion in unpaid electricity bills, under its one-time settlement scheme for over 600,000 people living rural parts of the state.
Jasdan is famous for handicrafts and diamond polishing.