POLL VAULT 2012. Gujarat&Himachal Pradesh

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2. Gujarat & Himachal Pradesh

Kejriwal & Co ready to play spoilsport

India Against Corruption is upping the ante against big guns in the upcoming polls by backing independent and rebel candidates, says Baba Umar

Photo: Dijeshwar Singh

IF ALL goes well, the Arvind Kejriwal-led India Against Corruption (IAC) plans to upset both the Congress and the BJP in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Emboldened by the Congress’ debacle in the Shimla Municipal Corporation poll in May, where the party lost the mayor and deputy mayor seats and secured only 10 wards in its 25-year-old bastion, besides the defection of some BJP stalwarts in Gujarat, the IAC is aiming to fill the space by backing independent or surrogate candidates.

“This will put to rest the speculation that we are close to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and soft on the BJP, which already rules in both states. It will also be a runup to the 2013 Delhi Assembly poll,” reveals an IAC insider close to Kejriwal, on condition of anonymity.

The IAC will be formally launched as a party and given a name on 26 November. By then, the Himachal poll would be over. In Gujarat, too, where polling is scheduled to take place between 13-17 December, the IAC, which isn’t a registered political party, can’t field its candidates. “That’s why we have decided to back independent candidates. We are aiming for 10 seats in Himachal and almost five in Gujarat. In Himachal, if the Left can win, why can’t IAC-backed candidates?” asks the insider.

The IAC’s preparations in Himachal are in the final stages. Its core committee members, such as Kejriwal himself, lawyer-cum-activist Prashant Bhushan and social activist Manish Sisodia have been regularly visiting the state since May “to create a strong base of loyal workers”.

Rebel BJP MLA Kanu Kalsaria holds the key for the IAC in the Gujarat elections

“In Gujarat, we will be supporting rebel BJP legislator Kanu Kalsaria,” says the insider. Kalsaria, the BJP MLA from Botad, had successfully triggered an agitation against the Modi government for sanctioning a cement plant of Nirma Industries in Bhavnagar district, and had gone to the Supreme Court. The agitation saw the Central Environment and Forests Department cancelling the nod for the plant. The disgruntled BJP leader, who is fielding five candidates in the Gujarat polls, is being seen as a potential core committee member of the IAC.

“That’s what he wants, too. Kalsaria has been meeting Kejriwal regularly, expressing his willingness to join the IAC. But to become a member, a non-tainted record for any BJP or Congress defector is a must,” adds the insider.

The IAC is also throwing its weight behind defected BJP leader and two-time chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who holds sway on the Patel community that comprises 15 percent of Gujarat’s population. Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party is contesting all the 182 Assembly seats.

Sources say IAC’s Gujarat unit head and core committee member Dinesh Vaghela is projecting victory in at least five seats and that Kejriwal may soon visit the state.

However, all hopes rest on Kalsaria. When the campaigning against the Nirma Industries was at its peak, Kalsaria had formed the Sadbhavna Manch and fielded candidates in local bodies’ polls. The Manch won two seats in the district panchayats of Bhavnagar and nine in taluka panchayats. This time, Kalsaria is planning to fight the coastal seats of Mahuva, Talaja, Rajula, Gariadhar and Savarkundla.

Before Anna Hazare dissolved Team Anna on 6 August, an insider had given TEHELKA a peek into Kejriwal’s political ambitions and preparations for the Himachal polls. The IAC had started a portal with the purpose of sensitising the youth about corruption. But the portal was later pulled down. The IAC had sifted through files and press notes in the state information department’s websites and posted them online, with names of politicians involved in or accused of corruption. All this was aimed at raising cadres.

“We had uploaded all the information on this site. It was a virtual interface for the Himachali people,” says the insider, adding, “But Kiran Bedi was opposed to anything that would harm the BJP. While Anna was okay with Kejriwal’s political ambitions, and had even identified candidates for both Himachal and Gujarat polls, Bedi was successful in stopping Anna from doing that.”

The IAC members had also visited Himachal in April to form anti-corruption teams in all districts to assess the properties of all politicians through RTI, but the plan was dropped after Hazare dissolved the team. Sources say the IAC is using Bhushan’s clout to re-enter the political space where many former bureaucrats and professors are contesting the polls this time around.

IAC-backed candidates may not claim the majority, but given the corruption charges against major parties, their sting might just make the heaving elephant flounder.

Baba Umar is a Seior Correspondent with Tehelka.
babaumar@tehelka.com

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