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Setback for Gujarat Congress as senior leader Bavaliya resigns as MLA, set to join BJP

Ending weeks of speculation, disgruntled Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) working president Kunvarji Bavaliya Tuesday resigned as MLA and was set to join the BJP. Resignation of Bavaliya, an MLA from Jasdan constituency, comes ahead of Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Gujarat in the second week of this month.

Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel confirmed Bavaliya’s resignation to the media. He said that Bavaliya would soon join the BJP and that he may also get a berth in the cabinet.

Bavaliya drove to the official residence of Assembly Speaker Rajendra Trivedi in Gandhinagar and submitted his resignation. The Speaker told media persons that he had accepted and approved Bavliya’s resignation.

Later, Bavaliya drove to Kamalam, the state BJP headquarters on the outskirts of Ahmedabad where he was welcomed by Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and others. Bavaliya could not be reached for immediate comment.

His resignation culminates weeks of speculation that he was unhappy with the Congress’ treatment towards him since the Assembly election in December last year when he was elected from Jasdan constituency for the fifth time. In the run-up to the Assembly poll, Congress had made him working president of GPCC.

After Congress failed to win power despite improved show in the Assembly elections, he was considered among the front-runners for the post of leader of Congress Legislature Party (CLP). But the 63-year-old leader was pipped by Paresh Dhanani, who is around 20 years junior to him. Since the time he lost out in the CLP race, he had been fuming over what he termed “sidelining of senior leaders” by Congress.

On June 24, he had addressed a gathering of Koli community and had admitted that being an MLA of Opposition party, he had failed to develop his constituency compared to others. He had also said that Koli leaders, irrespective of their alliance with either the BJP or Congress, carried no weight and said that power certainly mattered. He had also said that he was ready to “change his idea” if it was warranted to ensure development of people of his constituency.

Bavaliya’s switch to the BJP is a huge setback for Congress. He is considered one of the three biggest leaders of Koli community which form the single largest electoral group in the state. The other two leaders are BJP MLA Parsottam Solanki from Bhavnagar (rural) while Congress’ Somabhai Patel from Limdi Assembly seat in Surendranagar district.

Since the time he burst on scene in 1995 by winning the Assembly election from Jasdan constituency, Bavaliya has maintained stronghold on the seat. A high school teacher, Bavaliya went on to retain his seat in 1998, 2002 and 2007 before he was elected to Lok Sabha from Rajkot Parliamentary seat in 2009. The Congress again fielded him from the seat in Assembly election last year where he emerged victorious despite a strong challenge from Bharat Boghra of the BJP.

The defection to the ruling party is also seen as an attempt by Bavaliya to shore up his political future. He had suffered a series of defeats before ending the trait in December last year. After being elected to Lok Sabha, he had fielded his daughter Bhavna in the bypolls to Jasdan Assembly seat. But Bhavna was defeated by Boghra. While he was a sitting MP from Rajkot Lok Sabha seat, Bavaliya lost the Assembly election in 2012 from Botad seat. After the setback, he suffered another defeat as he failed to retain his Lok Sabha seat.

While the series of defeats had dented his standing in the party, he got an unexpected lease of life as his protege Bhola Gohil, then Congress MLA from Jasdan, defected to the BJP during the Rajya Sabha poll the state in August last year. The defection by Gohil angered Koli community in Jasdan and calls for fielding Bavaliya again from Jasdan got louder.

Meanwhile, the BJP is apparently seeking a backdoor entry to Jasdan seat, a constituency it has never managed to win in more than two decades barring the 2009 bypolls. It is also an attempt to project an alternate Koli face as Parsottam Solanki has faced corruption charges while his younger brother Hira Solanki lost the election in December. The move also comes at a time when Patidars, considered core constituents of the BJP, are up in arms against the saffron party since the Patidar quota stir began in mid-2015 and the party is looking to extend its support base among other communities.

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