Rajkot: The battle for Rajkot-West seat, the traditional BJP fortress, could be a cliffhanger for its high-profile contestant and Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani who is facing a challenger in Congress' Indranil Rajyaguru.
Earlier known as Rajkot-II, the seat is considered as 'safe' for the saffron party which has been representing it since 1985.
The constituency goes to polls on Friday (Dec 9) in the first phase of the high-stakes Gujarat elections.
Vajubhai Vala, incumbent Governor of Karnataka, had won the seat seven times for the BJP - from 1985 to 2012. In 1985, he had defeated Harshadba Chudasama.
Vala vacated the seat for Narendra Modi in 2002 after the latter was then nominated as the chief minister. Later, when Modi moved to Maninagar constituency, Vala continued his undefeated run till 2012.
Later, after Vala was shifted to Karnataka, Vijay Rupani won the bypoll from the seat in 2014.
Though Rajkot-West is a stronghold of the RSS, the Congress has mounted a strong challenge by bringing in Rajyaguru, the sitting MLA from Rajkot-East, to rework the caste combination in the party's favor.
To retain his seat, Rupani has to surmount the angry Patidars as well as the trading community, which is smarting under the impact of demonetization and rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Out of 3.15 lakh voters in the constituency, the number of Kadva and Leuva Patidars is the highest at 62,000, followed by Brahmins, Lohana and Jain communities.
The Congress is trying to direct the simmering anger among Patidars over lack of reservation in education and government jobs under the BJP rule against Rupani.
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 bedrock of the BJP's support base in Gujarat.
Congress nominee Rajyaguru, the richest candidate in Gujarat elections, believes that he has won the "initial battle" against Rupani by keeping him busy in the constituency since the poll schedule was announced.
"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," Rajyaguru claimed.
However, Rupani has been unfazed and is confidant of his victory.
He earlier cited the work done by him for the people of the state as well as his constituency, especially bringing the Narmada river water to Rajkot.
Rupani had said that he was not facing any challenge in Rajkot West as it is a traditional bastion of the BJP.
"I will win the seat easily," he had told PTI in an interview recently.
BJP's Saurashtra and Kutch spokesperson Raju Dhruv said that Rupani has always been ready to solve the problems faced by the people of Rajkot or elsewhere in Gujarat.
"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," 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.