Dhoraji: The contest on Dhoraji seat of Gujarat will be a prestige issue for Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel as one of his key aides, Lalit Vasoya, is contesting from there on Congress' ticket.
Vasoya will be taking on veteran BJP leader and former Lok Sabha MP Harilal Patel on this Patel community-dominated Assembly constituency in Rajkot district.
Dhoraji has traditionally been a stronghold of Congress. Veteran Patel community leader Vitthal Radadiya was elected from the seat for five times on Congress' ticket before he quit the party and joined the BJP.
Radadiya is presently the BJP's Lok Sabha member from Porbandar.
Dhoraji is the only Assembly constituency on which Congress has fielded a leader from Hardik Patel-led PAAS.
The Patidars form a sizable chunk of the population in the constituency, but Muslims and Dalits are also present in significant numbers and can together decide the fate of candidates in the fray.
But more than the issues of Patidars and Dalits, it is the issue of development at the local level that has taken the center-stage, because of an incomplete underground sewage system and poor road infrastructure in Dhoraji town.
The problems faced by farmers, cutting across caste lines, in getting the right minimum support price (MSP) for their produce like cotton and groundnut is also a key issue.
"The local issues are more prominent here than the issues of caste and Patidars. The BJP-ruled nagarpalika could not complete the underground sewage system in time and it is still incomplete," says Vasoya.
The PAAS leader is campaigning aggressively and also focusing on the issue of alleged corruption in the local body and low MSP for farmers in the villages.
"In rural areas, the issues of low MSP for cotton, groundnut and pulses since last three years remain prominent. The farmers are getting less support price than their investment. They (farmers) belong to all castes and therefore, caste does not matter much to them," Vasoya says.
Meanwhile, the BJP's nominee, Harilal Patel, also a member of the Patidar community, is seeking votes on the issue of development.
"Development is our main issue. The state government allocated Rs 110 crore for the development of Dhoraji. The work on underground sewage system is on, half of the work is completed," says Patel, who represented the Porbandar Lok Sabha seat till 2009.
On the issue of MSP to farmers, Patel says the state government is making purchases by offering the cultivators Rs 100 over the MSP of cotton.
"The farmers understand that the state government is working for their benefit by giving them Rs 100 per 20 kg over and above the MSP," he says.
But will the Patidars vote for BJP given that Congress has fielded a member of the group that fought with the saffron party-led government for reservation to the community members?
To this, Patel says, "The educated Patidars understand that the BJP government has done a lot for them. They understand that the government did its best to address their demands and so, I do not see a reason why they should not support the BJP."
Patel, however, is battling the tag of being an "outsider" with Vasoya claiming that he does not belong to Dhoraji and would not be able to understand the local issues.
"It matters a lot to the voters whether you are a local candidate or have been imported from outside the constituency. The BJP candidate does not belong to Dhoraji and this goes against him," says Vasoya.
The PAAS leader, who is contesting for the first time, is banking on the prominence he gained while fighting for the Patidar community over reservation demand.
The Congress had won the election in Dhoraji in 2012. Vitthal Radadiya, then a Congress MLA, registered victory from the seat in 2012 for the fifth term, before resigning and joining the ruling BJP.
Following Radadiya's resignation, a by-election was necessitated in 2013 from this Congress stronghold. However, BJP's Pravin Makadiya then won the seat.
Vasoya is now looking to regain the Congress' foothold here while the BJP aims to maintain the gain made during the 2013 by-election.
As many as 17 candidates are in fray on the seat, with some prominent nominees being of Aam Aadmi Party, Janta Dal (U), Bahujan Samaj Party, former Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela's Jan Vikalp front and six independents.