The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday virtually renominated all its sitting MLAs in Gujarat in the first list of 70 candidates it declared while giving tickets to five of the Congress MLAs who defected to it in August.
Significantly, the party has decided to field 16 Patels in the contest, in view of the fact that the party and its government in Gujarat have been facing an agitation by the Patidar community led by young leader Hardik Patel.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has been re-nominated from his traditional Rajkot West constituency, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel from traditional Mehsana seat, and state BJP chief Jitubhai Vaghani from Bhavnagar West. Earlier, Vaghani had refused to contest.
The first phase of Gujarat Assembly elections for 89 seats will be held on December 9 and for the remaining 93 on December 14. The results will be announced along with that of Himachal Pradesh assembly on December 18.
Contrary to speculations that many sitting BJP MLAs will be denied tickets this time, the party has dropped only three sitting MLAs. Varshaben Doshi has been dropped from Wadhwan, and instead the ticket was given to Dhanjibhai Patel (Mackson). Patel is an industrialist and considered a leading personality from the Patidar community.
Nalin Kotadia, who won from Dhari in 2012 on Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) ticket and later joined BJP, has also been dropped. The BJP has replaced him with four-time former MP Dileep Sanghani, who used to contest from Amreli that he lost to young Congress leader Paresh Dhanani in the 2012 Assembly polls.
In a bid to wrest Amreli from the Congress, the BJP has shifted Bavkubhai Udhad from Lathi in Amreli district to contest against Dhanani. Udhad is reckoned as a strong Patidar leader.
The BJP has also dropped Bhavanaben Makwana from Mahuva Assembly constituency in Bhavnagar district. Instead the party has given the ticket to her husband Raghvjibhai Makwana.
Although the party has dropped three sitting MLAs, it has repeated 49 sitting MLAs from their respective constituencies, while giving tickets to five Congress leaders who defected to BJP during the Rajya Sabha elections.
Of the remaining 13 candidates, five had lost in the 2012 elections, while the rest are new faces.
The five Congress defectors -- Raghavjibhai Patel, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Ramsinh Parmar, Mansinh Chauhan, and C.K. Raulji -- have been renominated in their constituencies. These Congress rebels had supported the BJP against Congress heavyweight Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha election.
There are four women candidates in the list. They are Ramilaben Bara, Manisha Vakil, Sangita Patil and Vibhavariben Patel. Of them Ramilaben had lost the last election.
Surprisingly, contrary to speculations, both Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti members Varun Patel and Reshma Patel are not in the first list.
On Thursday afternoon, BJP President Amit Shah had summoned party leaders at the state BJP headquarters in Gandhinagar for a meeting, which continued till late night.
The meeting was attended by Vaghani, Deputy Chief Minister Patel, state Home Minister Pradeepsinh Jadeja and party leader Bhikhubhai Dalsania.
On Friday morning, the BJP chief met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior party leaders in Delhi as well as senior Gujarat leaders before announcing the first list.