Gujarat's Rajkot-West seat has traditionally been a BJP fortress and considered safe for the ruling party, which has been representing it since 1985. This time, however, the elections in this constituency could get exciting with Chief Minister Vijay Rupani facing a challenger in Congress' Indranil Rajyaguru, the sitting MLA from Rajkot-East and the richest candidate in Gujarat election.
Mr Rajguru -- who has declared assets of Rs. 141 crore, in comparison to the Chief Minister's 7.4 crore -- left his Rajkot East seat to contest against the chief minister. "I have money and I can help people," said the legislator, whom the locals have dubbed "dhankuber" -- roughly an equivalent of King Midas.
Vajubhai Vala, incumbent Governor of Karnataka, had won the seat seven times for the BJP - from 1985 to 2012. Mr Vala vacated the seat for Narendra Modi in 2002 after the latter was then nominated as the chief minister. Later, when Mr Modi moved to Maninagar constituency, Mr Vala continued his undefeated run till 2012.
After Mr Vala was shifted to Karnataka, Vijay Rupani won the bypoll from the seat in 2014.
To rework the caste combination in party's favour, the Congress has fielded Mr Rajyaguru.
Mr Rupani has to surmount the angry Patidars and the trading community, which is smarting under the impact of demonetisation and rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Rajkot West is the largest constituency in the Saurashtra region. Out of 3.15 lakh voters in the constituency which goes to poll on December 9, the number of Kadva and Leuva Patidars is the highest at 62,000, followed by Brahmins, Lohana and Jain communities.
Dubbed "CM seat" by many, Rajkot West has given Gujarat three chief ministers - Keshubhai Patel, Vijay Rupani and Narendra Modi, who went on to become the Prime Minister. PM Modi had contested his first elections from this seat in 2001.
The Congress is trying to direct the anger among Patidars who are angry over lack of reservation in education and government jobs.
The quota agitation and Hardik Patel joining hands with Congress may dent the BJP's base among the Patidars, who till now were considered as the foundation of the BJP's support base in Gujarat.
"I wanted to keep the chief minister busy in Rajkot-West constituency and morally I have won the initial battle as the chief minister has to visit his constituency more than once in a week," Mr Rajyaguru was quoted as saying.
Mr Rupani, however, remains unfazed and is confident of his victory.
"I will win the seat easily,"Mr Rupani had told PTI in an interview recently, citing the work done by him in his constituency, especially bringing the Narmada river water to Rajkot.
"As the CM, he has done well and because of his tireless efforts, Rajkot could get the Narmada water in less than five years of the project announced by then chief minister Narendra Modiji," BJP's Saurashtra and Kutch spokesperson Raju Dhruv said.
The 182-member Gujarat Assembly will go to the polls in two phases -- on December 9 and 14 -- and the counting of votes will be taken up on December 18.
(With Inputs From PTI)
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