By Madhulika Gupta
Almost a fortnight ago, the results of the Gujarat assembly Election were announced. The speculations in the nail-biting event came to a halt with BJP emerging as the winner and the Congress forming the Opposition with a strong mandate for the first time since 1985. Vijay Rupani has again taken oath as the Chief Minister in the state.
However, what’s even more interesting to look out for is who will be put up by the Congress as the Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly? Amidst speculation, the name of Paresh Dhanani, among others, has cropped up.
A Patidar leader concerned with agrarian crisis
Paresh Dhanani happens to be a compelling Patidar leader who contested the election with a ticket from Congress. The forty-one-year-old Patidar leader is a youth icon in the region; something that has played out very well for him.
In addition to his Patidar front, he was also seen at the forefront of the Saurashtra-Kutch campaign. He is known to be an active sympathiser to the farmer community of the region and holds massive public sway. As was seen in the results of the election, the Saurashtra-Kutch sector is one area in Gujarat where Congress won the most votes because of the disillusioned farmer community. The agrarian crisis in the Saurashtra-Kutch region has disrupted the lives of the farmer community that relies majorly on groundnut farming. This was milked as a strong vote share by Congress with the help of Patidar support in the region.
Dhanani won the election too, from Amreli district in Saurashtra. Additionally, Dhanani has been one of the more active members of the party to help formulate Rahul Gandhi’s extensive campaigning in the Saurashtra-Kutch region.
A second consecutive win
It is interesting to note that this is Dhanani’s second consecutive win from the Amreli district. He has won the seat three times in total. He won the Assembly election first in 2002 but lost to BJP’s Dileep Sanghani in 2007. Post that, he won the 2012 election as well as the recent 2017 election from Amreli.
This time, Dhanani retained his Amreli seat where he contested the election against BJP’s Bavkubhai Patel and won by a margin of 12,000-odd votes.
Dhanani’s stellar performance in Amreli and his fierce campaigning with other Patidar leaders in the region has lent him remarkable fame, which makes him a strong contender for the position of Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly.
A young turk with remarkable experience
A strong reason to be reckoned with, when it comes to Dhanani becoming the frontrunner for the position of Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly, is his proximity to Congress President Rahul Gandhi. He is known to share a great rapport with Gandhi.
Also, his age makes him an ideal candidate for the job. Party insiders have time and again expressed Rahul Gandhi’s belief in rooting for younger members as representatives in state Assemblies.
Dhanani was merely 26 years of age when he first contested the election from the Amreli seat in 2002. He was touted as the youngest MLA then.
The party cadre was also considering Mohansinh Rathwa (tribal leader) of the Chota Udepur seat for the job. However, most leaders of Congress pushed the thought away because of his age (74 years). Hence, it can be inferred that Dhanani’s age puts him at the front of the line.
Stalwarts bite dust in the election
Another reason to be considered is the defeat of veteran Congress leaders in Gujarat. Sidharth Patel, Shaktisinh Gohil, Arjun Modhwadia and Tushar Chaudhary were four strong pillars who ultimately lost the battle. With the defeat of its most experienced leaders, Congress is now left with no choice but to introduce relatively newer members in the field.
In situations like these, a person like Dhanani might be a great bet. He has decent experience, is one of the state party leaders, is young and educated, holds a strong influence and has proved his mettle in the election. He is especially known for his will to voice his concerns: be it the recent Dharna outside Vidhan Sabha for being expelled, or his stand on the Naliya rape case.
How Congress will go about it
Congress has, ahead of itself, a massive task to deal with. Senior Congress leaders Ashok Gehlot (Gujarat party in-charge) and Jitendra Singh (former Union Minister) have been given the task to observe and appoint a leader of the party in the Assembly. What is being tabled are the experience of candidates, their age, their hold among the public, the work they have done and how they have performed in the past.
There are a lot of names doing the rounds, including Anil Joshaira, or Kunvarji Bavalia. OBC leader Alpesh Thakor could also be a probable choice.
Another strong candidate for the position is Shailesh Parmar, who is relatively younger that Paresh Dhanani and has defeated BJP’s Jitu Vaghela twice in a row. If the party seeks a younger candidate with exceptional performance, Parmar could be the man for the job.
However, Dhanani promises a decent experience with him in addition to the strong Patidar influence. It will be interesting to see how things develop. The main thing to see is, how Congress will set its priorities straight as it chooses one name from one-too-many.
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