The Congress’ decision to cede Bharuch to AAP is driven by the conflicting aspirations of Ahmed Patel’s son and daughter, along with the absence of a tribal representative.

The unease within the Congress ranks in Gujarat became evident following the joint announcement by the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) regarding the seat-sharing agreement for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in five states/Union Territories. The agreement, disclosed in Delhi on Saturday, included the Bhavnagar and Bharuch seats, where the AAP had already declared its incumbent MLAs Umesh Makwana and Chaitar Vasava as candidates.

These two constituencies hold particular significance for the Congress, as Bhavnagar district is the base of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) chief Shaktisinh Gohil, and Bharuch is the hometown of the late Congress stalwart Ahmed Patel.

Despite Vasava’s assurance to Congress leaders that the seat would be secured as a tribute to Ahmed Patel, Faisal Patel, Ahmed Patel’s son, publicly expressed his intention to contest from Bharuch. He hinted that the matter is still unresolved, stating to reporters outside his Bharuch residence, “We will fight together, but the issue is not over yet, the story is still unfolding.”

Shortly after the INDIA bloc announced Chaitar as its candidate, Vasava expressed, “I embrace the announcement of my candidacy for the Bharuch Lok Sabha seat as part of the Congress-AAP’s INDIA collaboration in Gujarat. My gratitude to Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi, Shaktisinh Gohil, and Ahmed Patel’s family in Bharuch, including Mumtaz (Ahmed Patel’s daughter) and Faisal. I assure them that we will consult with Congress workers and leaders, strategize for the elections, and secure victory in Bharuch as a tribute to Ahmed Patel ji.”

The Bharuch constituency, known for its substantial tribal voter base, has been consistently represented by BJP tribal leaders since 1989, with the current BJP MP, Mansukh Vasava, holding the seat for six terms since 1998. Ahmed Patel previously held the seat from 1977 to 1984.

Chaitar Vasava, currently on bail in connection with a criminal case involving alleged assault and extortion, faces a prohibition on entering his native district of Narmada imposed by a local court. On the third day of the AAP’s Swambhiman Yatra, initiated on Thursday, Chaitar extended an invitation, saying, “I welcome Bharuch Congress leaders, including district president Rajendrasinh Rana, to join the Yatra and collaborate in connecting with voters.”

Earlier, Rana had communicated to the GPCC, asserting that the district unit would express dissent if the constituency was relinquished to the AAP.

Shaktisinh Gohil informed The Indian Express, stating, “I have engaged in discussions with most leaders, and there is no dissatisfaction. Although they held differing opinions initially, as committed party members, we will actively participate in the campaign for the alliance. AAP members will advocate for Congress leaders in 24 seats, and reciprocally, Congress members will support AAP in the remaining two. Our decision is to collaborate effectively.”

Faisal expressed, “I have become aware of the decision regarding seat-sharing through the media. Tonight, I am heading to Delhi to engage with the Congress high command. While my party workers may feel disheartened, I will communicate with them and elucidate the rationale behind the party’s decision. This is our seat and constituency, and we will adhere to the party’s directives. There is ample time for nominations and the elections.”

Emphasizing that his father had diligently served the people of Bharuch, Faisal underscored that despite the decision causing unhappiness among him and party members, they would abide by the directives of the party high command.

Prior to the official announcement, Faisal had utilized ‘X’ to share a video from Chaitar’s public rally on February 18, where Chaitar asserted, “Even if Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi contest against me, I will win Bharuch… No one has the strength to stop Chaitar Vasava from winning the seat.” In his post, Faisal asserted, “Anyone who disrespects and opposes our respected leader Rahul Gandhi ji will not have the support of our party workers or myself.”

Nevertheless, the dynamics between Faisal and Chaitar were notably different just six months ago. On the 74th birth anniversary of Ahmed Patel on August 22 last year, the two stood together on the stage, with Chaitar pledging support for Mumtaz’s candidacy if sanctioned by the alliance. Subsequently, in August, Chaitar expressed his ambition to contest from Bharuch, regardless of a mandate from the INDIA bloc.

His sister Mumtaz, also vying for the seat, took to social media on Saturday, stating, “I deeply apologize to our district cadre for not being able to secure the Bharuch Lok Sabha seat in the alliance. I share your disappointment. Together, we will regroup to strengthen Congress. We won’t let Ahmed Patel’s 45 years of legacy go in vain.” Mumtaz had expressed her desire to contest the Lok Sabha election during an event in Ahmedabad on August 12 last year.

Chaitar, who serves as the AAP’s state working president and legislature party leader, faced a turning point in November last year. He was implicated in a case of alleged extortion and assault of a forest officer, leading to his evasion before eventual arrest.

In the latter part of the previous month, posters featuring Faisal Patel with the tagline “Hu toh ladish (I will fight)” surfaced in the constituency. Since then, he has been actively participating in Congress events and has asserted that Mumtaz would endorse his candidacy.

Senior leaders of GPCC perceive Saturday’s development as “disheartening” but adopt a pragmatic perspective. A senior party leader remarked, “While it’s true that the Congress would have preferred to retain Bharuch for sentimental reasons and due to its historical significance as the bastion of the party’s influential leader… the fact remains that the party has not secured victory in the Lok Sabha elections in Bharuch or Bhavnagar for the past 35 years. Following the departure of several tribal leaders before the Gujarat Assembly polls in 2022, the only notable Opposition figures in the tribal belt are Anant Patel and Chaitar Vasava… If the party high command has made this decision in the broader interest, it falls upon GPCC to rally its disheartened cadre and ensure a win for the alliance.

Meanwhile, the state BJP president, C R Paatil, has characterized the Congress-AAP alliance as an association between “a blind man and a lame man.” On Saturday, he commented, “I believe they are still daydreaming and are not adequately prepared. In the 2022 state elections, Chaitar Vasava received only 13% of the votes in the Assembly constituency under the Bharuch Lok Sabha seat, while Congress secured 26%. Even their combined total is less than BJP’s 51%… Despite such an alliance, they aspire for victory in Bharuch and Bhavnagar, but success seems unlikely. We maintain a strong foothold in both constituencies and anticipate winning all 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat with substantial vote margins.”

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