Towards the end of 2017, Alpesh Thakor was on top of the world. He had got a Congress ticket paving way for him to contest from the Radhanpur seat in Gujarat, which he subsequently won, and entered the corridors of power in Gandhinagar in a grand style.
Two years later, Alpesh Thakor is left with few options, after his political ambitions drove him towards the BJP, which led to his resignation as an MLA from the Gujarat Assembly. Eventually Thakor lost his home turf (Radhanpur) to seasoned Congress leader Raghu Dixit on 24 October.
Alpesh’s associate from the ‘Thakor Samaj’, Dhavalsinh Zala, had also quit the Congress and lost the Bayad seat, albeit, with a slim margin of 743 seats.
Then there is Tharad, a seat, that was BJP’s bastion for 15 years, and is now ib the Grand Old Party’s kitty.
The results take the Congress' tally in the 182- member House to 72, and that of the BJP to 103.
Clearly, all political pundits read the Gujarat by-polls wrong by predicting a clean sweep for the BJP. The question remains, what were the factors that played against the saffron party in their home state especially after the Modi wave in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Nationalist Agenda Failed to Strike a Chord
Throughout 2019, the BJP had been campaigning about its nationalist agenda even before the country went for the Lok Sabha elections. The Pulwama attack followed by the Balakot counter strike became a major tipping point for the voters who brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power with a thumping majority.
However, the same electoral plank could not win over voters in Modi’s home state during this month’s by-polls with even the numbers clearly indicating the same.
The six assembly seats, that went for by-polls had voted heavily for the BJP during the General Elections 2019, giving the party a 62 percent vote share.
The Congress could only salvage 33 percent vote share then.
But by the time the by-polls arrived the saffron party’s vote share was reduced to nearly 48 percent while the Congress’ vote share jumped up to around 44 percent.
However, the margin of victory for the Congress in its three seats, though relatively small, was enough to knock Alpesh and Dhavalsinh out of the competition.
According to Professor Hemant Kumar Shah, ‘Nationalism will not fill empty stomachs.’
“Lets be very clear, those who voted for development, voted for the Congress and those who voted for nationalism voted for the BJP. The state of farmers is quite dire in Gujarat and the Congress, for once, managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat without its big leaders. This is why a seat like Tharad, which has always been a BJP bastion, went to the Grand Old Party,” Professor Shah said.
In the Tharad seat of Banaskantha, Congress candidate, Gulabsinh Rajput made a comeback after trailing in the initial rounds, and defeated BJP's Jivraj Patel by over 6,400 votes. Gujarat BJP chief, Jitu Vaghani, said that the party leaders will brainstorm on the reasons for the defeat on three seats.
“Bayad and Radhanpur were with the Congress earlier. Though we have lost Tharad, we won on three seats, which is also important. Senior party leaders will sit together to find out the reasons for our defeat on three seats. But overall, people have once again put faith in BJP.”Jitu Vaghani, President, Gujarat BJP
Alpesh’s Greed for Power Cost Him Dearly
The biggest factor that worked against Alpesh is his lack of loyalty to one party. Alpesh’s political career started out with OBC Ekta Manch and the Thakor Sena, and he made a name for himself by targeting the sale of illicit booze in a state where alcohol is prohibited.
The 2015 Patidar agitation in Gujarat opened a can of worms for BJP and once the caste lines were drawn, Alpesh took his ‘Thakor Sena’ to the fore.
By 2017 he had joined the Congress in the presence of party president, Rahul Gandhi, which led him to get the ticket from Radhanpur constituency. Alpesh later won from this seat with a decent margin of 14,857 seats.
Alpesh also brought in Dhavasinh Zala to the Congress who won the Bayad seat with a margin of 7,901 seats in the 2017 Assembly elections.
However, in 2018, Alpesh’s hunger for power grew more, something which was evident as he kept bickering about the infighting within the party ranks, especially between senior party leaders. Yet, the party appointed him as the national secretary and party in-charge of Bihar.
Then came the ‘migrant crisis’ towards the end of 2018 which was allegedly sparked by Alpesh’s hate speeches after a minor girl was raped by a Bihari migrant labourer in north Gujarat. The resulting exodus saw nearly 10,000 north Indian workers fleeing from Gujarat.
By the time, the 2019 general elections arrived, it became quite apparent for Alpesh that he was standing on the losing side, and he chose his moment carefully to switch sides.
Earlier in July, Alpesh and Dhavalsinh voted for the External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, and immediately resigned from the Gujarat Assembly. He and Dhavalsinh had already resigned from all the positions within the Congress party but were waiting for the Rajya Sabha elections before they resigned from the Assembly.
These political ploys have clearly not gone down well with the local voters who were looking for strong leaders in the Assembly, one who could raise local issues on the floor.
Following his defeat, Alpesh Thakor claimed his rivals resorted to caste-based politics and money power.
“I accept my defeat. I express my gratitude to the Thakor community as it voted for me. However, caste-based politics, money power and enticements played a role in my defeat. I lost because of a conspiracy,”Alpesh Thakor, Gujarat BJP Leader
Gujarat Congress chief, Amit Chavda, said that the people of Radhanpur and Bayad rejected those who betrayed them.
"People of Radhanpur and Bayad have taught a lesson to those who used to claim that they won on their own in 2017, not because of the Congress. People have crushed the ego of such people. People gave a clear message that those who betray their own people can never have a place in public life," he said.
Meanwhile in a series of tweets, Independent MLA from Vadgam, Jignesh Mevani, urged Alpesh to quit BJP and work for the people and be ready to go to jail on trumped-up charges.