The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat has once again reposed faith in five-time MLA and prominent Koli community leader Parshottam Solanki for Bhavnagar-Rural seat in the upcoming Assembly polls, despite his ill health.
While 61-year-old Mr. Solanki asserts he has resolved all issues of people in his Assembly segment and they will vote for him, the opposition Congress claims this time he will not be able to overcome the anti-incumbency.
This Koli community-dominated seat came into existence in 2012 following delimitation. It was carved out from the erstwhile Ghogha and Bhavnagar South constituencies.
Since then, Mr. Solanki, who is also known as ‘Bhai’ among his followers, has been winning the seat with comfortable margins.
Though he is not keeping well since some time, the BJP has made him a star campaigner to help the party win Koli-dominated seats of the Saurashtra region.
Elections for the 182-member Gujarat Assembly will be held in two phases on December 1 and 5.
There are nearly 2.5 lakh votes in Bhavnagar-Rural seat, including 70,000 Kolis, followed by 40,000 Rajputs, 22,000 Patidars, 18,000 Dalits, 20,000 Muslims and around 15,000 Karadia Rajputs (Other Backward Class).
The Congress has given ticket to Revatsinh Gohil, while the new poll entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded Khumansinh Gohil.
Despite the odds, the Congress has expressed hope of wresting the seat from Mr. Solanki, claiming he will lose due to the anti-incumbency.
Mr. Solanki, thanks to his popularity in the region and the loyal Koli vote bank, in the past defeated Congress candidates, including former leader of opposition in the Assembly Shaktisinh Gohil, a Kshatriya.
Despite Mr. Gohil’s aggressive anti-BJP campaign in 2012, Mr. Solanki had then defeated him by a margin of more than 18,000 votes.
In 2017, Mr. Solanki defeated Congress candidate Kantibhai Chauhan by a margin of more than 30,000 votes.
Earlier, Mr. Solanki won from the erstwhile Ghogha seat in 1998, 2002 and 2007.
Mr. Solanki had served as minister under different Chief Ministers, including Keshubhai Patel, Narendra Modi and Vijay Rupani.
“He is perhaps the only politician who never needs to campaign for himself. He hardly goes among people to seek votes for himself. Despite that, he always wins with a comfortable margin. Such is his clout among voters,” a local leader said.
“Though Solanki is contesting himself, he has also been visiting other constituencies to ensure the victory of BJP candidates there because he is not worried about himself,” the leader said.
On Saturday, Mr. Solanki campaigned for Gujarat Education Minister Jitu Vaghani, who is contesting from Bhavnagar-West constituency.
Asked what are the key issues on which he will seek votes for himself this time, Solanki laughed and claimed he has already resolved all the issues of Bhavnagar-Rural seat.
“In case if I have missed anything, I will definitely try to resolve that issue if anyone draws my attention towards it. I am not made for politics. I work for the people because I love to do their work,” Mr. Solanki told reporters recently.
Asked if the AAP will affect his prospects, Mr. Solanki said he is confident that his community will remain by his side in any situation.
Since 2013, Mr. Solanki has been facing an investigation into an alleged fisheries scam of Rs 400 crore and the case is still pending before an anti-corruption court.
It was alleged that he, as junior fisheries minister, had granted contracts for fishing from 58 reservoirs without following procedures.
After the 2017 election, Mr. Solanki, who was made the Minister of State for Fisheries in the Vijay Rupani cabinet, had claimed the Koli community was unhappy with the portfolio allocation and he should be given more portfolios or another Koli leader should be added in the cabinet for a fair representation of the community.
In an apparent bid to mount pressure, his brother Hirabhai Solanki, also a sitting MLA from Rajula in Amreli, gathered Koli community members at Parshottam Solanki’s official residence at that time. The issue was resolved after a few days.
Bhavnagar district Congress president Rajendrasinh Gohil claimed price rise under the BJP is the biggest issue today.
“An LPG cylinder now costs more than Rs 1,000. Even people from the Koli community are angry because nothing concrete has been done by Parshottam Solanki for them till now. People are angry because he never meets them, forget about doing any work,” he further claimed.
The Congress will convey to the voters that unlike Parshottam Solanki, the Congress candidate will remain available for them anytime and do their work, Rajendrasinh Gohil said.
S.D. Chudasama, former Sarpanch of Kalatalav village and also a Koli community member, seconded the Congress leader’s views and claimed people of Bhavnagar-Rural seat, including Kolis, were not happy with Parshottam Solanki’s performance.
“Many villages in Bhal region of Bhavnagar faced flooding in the last few years after the government allowed salt pans on a piece of land which blocks the natural flow of rivers. Our farms were also inundated, resulting in huge losses. Despite our representation, Parshottam Solanki never brought any solution,” Mr. Chudasama said.