Factionalism, loss in local polls: Gujarat Congress struggles ahead of 2022 Assembly elections

On Friday, a group of 15 leaders met Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi to discuss leadership issues, a year ahead of the assembly election, reflecting the deep divide in the party riddled with factions.

In the 2017 assembly elections, the Congress had won 77 of the 182 seats that went to the polls — its highest since the BJP took over the reins of Gujarat in 1995. The Congress, in a campaign led by its state in-charge and now Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and then party’s president-elect Rahul Gandhi, achieved this feat largely riding on anti-incumbency and the 2015 Patidar agitation, which saw it getting votes in the rural belts of Gujarat from a constituency disenchanted with the BJP.

However, the situation seems to have reversed this time around, with the Congress losing badly at the local body elections held earlier this year.

On Friday, a group of 15 leaders met Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi to discuss leadership issues, a year ahead of the assembly election, reflecting the deep divide in the party riddled with factions. The contingent had at least four former PCC presidents – Bharatsinh Solanki, Arjun Modhwadia, Siddharth Patel and Amit Chavda.

In early 2018, Congress appointed 45-year-old Chavda, a four-time MLA from Anklav constituency in Anand, as GPCC president replacing veteran leader Bharatsinh Solanki, who is also his cousin.

On agenda at Friday’s meeting is the appointment of the president of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) and Leader of Opposition (LOP) ahead of the 2022 Gujarat Vidhan Sabha elections. The two posts have been lying vacant for the past six months in Gujarat since the interim GPCC president Amit Chavda and interim LOP Paresh Dhanani submitted their resignations earlier this year following the party’s poor performance in the local body polls held in February 2021.

Apart from the four former PCC chiefs , others who are meeting Rahul Gandhi are Rajya Sabha MP Shaktisinh Gohil, GPCC working president Hardik Patel, former Lok Sabha MP and union minister of state Tushar Chaudhary, former Lok Sabha MP and minister of state Naran Rathwa, Rajya Sabha MP Amee Yagnik, MLA Gyasuddin Shaikh, Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani. This is for the first time that such a large contingent from the state congress has approached the party’s high command in Delhi to not just discuss the pending appointments and the party’s “face” for the 2022 Sabha polls in 2022 but also to tackle the factionalism in Gujarat Congress.

The appointment of Chavda was seen as a move by the Congress party high command to choose a “young leader” ahead of the 2019 General elections . However, in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the Congress party could not manage to win even a single seat out of the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat. Congress then fared poorly in the Rajya Sabha byelections in 2019 as it lost both seats to the BJP. In 2019, as many as 11 Congress MLAs resigned from the assembly amid poaching allegations made by the party against the BJP. The party, however, won three assembly seats of six which went to bypolls in 2019. In 2020, the party again lost four of its MLAs who resigned just ahead of Rajya Sabha polls in 2020 in which only Shaktisinh Gohil managed to win a seat while three others were won by the BJP.

During the pandemic, the Congress lost its veteran leaders Ahmed Patel and AICC Gujarat in-charge Rajeev Satav.

Congress’ poor run continued in the Gujarat local body polls in 2021 as it won only 1805 seats out of 8470 seats. It won only two seats in Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation elections held recently.

Sources within the party say that after Ahmed Patel who was the party’s best troubleshooter, there are at least four camps in the party — that of Gohil, Solanki, Modhwadia and Hardik. Recently, after his appointment as the working president of GPCC, Hardik had claimed that he was largely disregarded by the state unit of the party and had to function in an isolated manner.

While the BJP, after the scare in 2017, has covered much ground in Gujarat, and is confident of leading the party to a victory even after replacing the entire government dispensation, beginning with the chief minister, the Congress is still struggling to keep its own constituencies from slipping away.

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