Amreli: The sitting legislator of Amreli assembly constituency in Gujarat is facing a tough contest to retain his seat in the state poll scheduled for next month. Unusually, he is unperturbed and looked relaxed as he mouthed a few sentences in Malayalam as this Manorama correspondent met him in the midst of a poll campaign.
Speaking in Malayalam he says: “Greetings brothers and sisters, vote for me! Thank you. Isn't this the way to canvass in your land?”
Paresh Dhanani is no pushover even though he is a Congress candidate in the western state that has been continously ruled by the BJP since the 90s.
Dhanani, who is a former Leader of Opposition, won from the Amreli constituency in the 2002, 2012, and 2017 elections. It is widely said his popular appeal as a person will aid him more in the election than the fact that he is a Congress candidate.
The constituency is in the Amreli district which was one of the nerve centres of the Patel agitation in 2017. The BJP has girded up its loins to defeat Dhanani this time. Though the Aam Admi Party (AAP) does not have a solid base of popular support, it could cause fissures in the vote share of the BJP and the Congress. The BJP expects the AAP to inflict more harm to the Congress than to it in a three-cornered race. All the three parties have fielded candidates from the Patel community. Fifty-five per cent of the voters in the Amreli constituency are Patels.
The Congress expects the charm of Dhanani’s personality will garner votes for it though the Patel community in Saurashtra which includes Amreli does not nurse a grudge against the BJP as in the last election. The Congress is seeking votes by listing out the achievements of Dhanani who went around villages ensuring supply of oxygen cylinders and medicines for critically ill patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If Dhanani is defeated, the BJP could claim that the Patel community has joined its bandwagon in the entire Saurashtra region. It could also be a pointer to the BJP recovering the pre-eminence that the party lost during the last election.
Dhanani had picked up a few Malayalam sentences from Congress leaders in Kerala when he was an activist of the Youth Congress. P C Vishnunath, a Kerala legislator, and Jebi Mathar, a Rajya Sabha MP, are his friends.