Tall order for new Gujarat Cong chief Gohil: Tackle infighting, revive party

Tall order for new Gujarat Cong chief Gohil: Tackle infighting, revive party

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Six months after a humiliating defeat in assembly elections in Gujarat, the Congress has appointed veteran leader and Rajya Sabha MP Shaktisinh Gohil as the new president of the state unit.

Gohil’s appointment on June 9 as the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee president comes at a time when both the BJP and the AAP are actively gearing up for the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.

Gohil, 63, a lawyer, succeeds Jagdish Thakor, under whom the Gujarat Congress put up a dismal show in the December 2022 assembly elections. The party won only 17 out of 182 assembly seats in Gujarat. It lost the position of opposition leader in the assembly with less than 10 per cent of the required number of MLAs in the House.

Gohil has held various positions in the state Congress unit since 1995. He has been MLA from Abdasa (Kutch) assembly constituency from 2014 to 2017 and MLA from Bhavnagar South from 1990 to 2012. He was also the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Gujarat Assembly from 2007 to 2012 and spokesperson of the Gujarat Congress from 2002 to 2007.

Gohil, a close associate of the late Congress leader Ahmed Patel, was his election agent in the nail-biting Rajya Sabha election in 2017. After losing the state elections twice from Mandvi (Kutch) and Bhavnagar, he shifted to national politics.

Also read: On course-correction mode, Cong woos Gujarat voters with ‘grievance campaign’

Congress’s misfortune

Noticeably, the Congress has been on a downward spiral since the local polls of 2019. The party, which once considered rural Gujarat a stronghold, lost most of the seats to the BJP. Adding to that, many of its candidate were disqualified, bringing out the lack of preparedness and organization of the party.

The party never recovered from that rout and began to lose ground further in each election after that — civic polls, district panchayat polls, assembly polls and most recently in the dairy cooperative polls. The party’s performance in the Lok Sabha polls has also witnessed a downward trend since 2009 when it secured only 11 of the 26 seats in the state.

In 2017, Ahmed Patel retained his Rajya Sabha seat after a nail-biting contest. However, the Congress lost the seat in the byelections following Patel’s death.

In 2014 and 2019, the BJP swept all the 26 Lok Sabha seats, with Congress drawing a blank.

Over the years, the Congress has tried many experiments with its leadership In Gujarat but nothing has worked for the party.

In 2018, the Congress had appointed Amit Chavda, a young OBC leader from Anand in central Gujarat as the GPCC president, and with him Paresh Dhanani, a strong Patidar (Patel) leader and MLA from Amreli in Saurashtra region as the leader of the opposition.

Also read: Shah: Cong insulted OBCs, BJP gave country’s first PM from community

OBCs and Patidars

The Congress focused on wooing OBCs and Patidars the next two years hoping that the party can repeat the performance of 2017 state elections where it had cut into the Patel vote bank in the wake of the Patidar agitation. However, as the impact of the movement led by Hardik Patel faded, the BJP won back its traditional vote bank. Eventually, Hardik Patel, the quota stir leader who joined the Congress, also joined the BJP.

Following a drubbing in local and civic polls in 2019 and 2020, Dhanani and Chavda both resigned from their posts. The posts remained vacant for nine months until the party decided to shift its focus back to its traditional vote banks – OBC and tribals.

In December 2021, the Congress appointed Jagdish Thakor, 64, and GPCC President and its tribal MLA Sukhram Rathva, 66, the leader of opposition. Thakor had won from Patan constituency in north Gujarat in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections by securing over 2.8 lakh votes and had been a two-term MLA from Dahegam. He resigned in 2016 from all posts in 2016 until he was made the GPCC president in 2021.

Rathva had won from the Jetpur constituency in Saurashtra region in the 2017 Assembly polls by securing over 60,000 votes.

However, the two led the party to one of its most humiliating performances in the history of electoral politics in Gujarat. The party could not even retain its traditional seats in tribal belt of the state, giving them away to BJP and AAP.

Also read: Gujarat dummy candidate scam: AAP cries foul as whistleblower is named as accused

Revolt against Thakor

Following the debacle, 16 MLAs, district and city president, expressed disgruntlement against Jagdish Thakor. Former Congress MLA from Radhanpur, Raghu Desai in a letter to party president Mallikarjun Kharge demanded action against Thakor and others.

Gohil will now be expected to tackle the party’s infighting and has a herculean task ahead of reviving the party in the state in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

“As far as the new responsibility is concerned, I will take along all (state leaders) and work hard with total dedication. I am confident that the people of Gujarat will support to the Congress and the party will rise again with strength,” Gohil said after the announcement by the party.

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