New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won with a big margin of over 62,000 votes in Gujarat’s Morbi, where 135 people died in a suspension bridge collapse weeks before the election.
The party’s gambit of dropping the sitting MLA Brijesh Merja — the minister of state for labour and employment — and fielding its former five-term MLA Kantilal Amrutiya, who had lost the seat to the Congress in 2017, paid off.
Amrutiya secured 1,14,538 votes Thursday against Congress’ Jayantilal Jerajbhai Patel, who got 52,459 votes. Patel, who was contesting his seventh election, has not managed to win the seat even once.
BJP decided to field Amrutiya in Morbi after videos of him wading into the Machhu river to rescue survivors of the bridge collapse had made headlines.
The collapse of the ‘Jhulto Pool’ — a 150-year-old pedestrian suspension bridge — on 30 October, allegedly as a result of shoddy renovation and overcrowding, had become a big talking point for the opposition, which projected the incident as a symbol of the BJP government’s failures and misrule.
The BJP has held Morbi for 27 years, with a brief three interval in 2017, when it lost the seat to the Congress. It, however, won back the seat in the 2020 assembly by-elections
Morbi had voted in the first phase of the elections on 1 December.
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Five-time MLA, bridge collapse ‘hero’
Though Amrutiya had won Morbi for the BJP five times since 1995, he lost to Congress’s Brijesh Merja (who later joined the BJP) in 2017 in the aftermath of the Patidar quota agitation that rocked the state in the run-up to the assembly polls that year.
Merja defected to the BJP in June 2020, necessitating a bypoll from the Morbi seat later that year, which he won again, but on a BJP ticket.
BJP sources had told ThePrint that Merja was the frontrunner to get the ticket from Morbi. But the bridge collapse and subsequent reports of how the shoddy work undertaken by the contractor — Oreva Group — led to the incident, necessitated a rethink. The BJP top brass felt that under the prevailing circumstances, Amrutiya was their best bet.
The party went all out to ensure that reverberations of the 30 October mishap do not dent its poll prospects. To that effect, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, along with several central and state BJP ministers, was seen canvassing for Amrutiya in Morbi.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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