Kuldeep Tiwari (MeraNews, Ahmedabad): With the shadow of anti-incumbency looming large over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state, the ruling party is turning to new faces as well as its ideological parent for the forthcoming Gujarat assembly elections.

The BJP is planning on giving tickets to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members as well as young leaders who have either been active in social work or who have a strong hold in their constituencies, said several people close to the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The party is considering removing some old names from their roster who have become nonperforming assets or have faced protests to make way for the new faces, these people said.

Several RSS members from Gujarat met the BJP top brass in New Delhi two weeks ago, with the discussion focusing on the Gujarat elections and possible candidates. Some of these RSS members were offered tickets about a week after the meeting and were told to start preparations in their constituencies, said one person who was present at the meeting.

One of the people who spoke on condition of anonymity said the RSS leaders have already had rounds of meetings with senior BJP members on who could be given tickets for the elections. “The party has decided to disclose the names later, closer to the election dates, since it doesn’t want to take a chance.”

One RSS member, who has been assured of a ticket, started a branding exercise for himself in his constituency a month ago. “When I met the top guns in the BJP, I was told clearly to begin my branding. I have already put hoardings in all the areas as suggested by the party. There are many like me who have been told about the tasks to be accomplished,” this person said on condition of anonymity.

On Friday, state representatives of the RSS and other organizations with a similar ideology gathered at Silver Oak College of Engineering as part of their Sneh Milan programme that is held every year after Diwali, where the Gujarat assembly elections were discussed. The people present at the programme included BJP state president Jitu Vaghani and senior RSS member Bhikhubhai Dalsaniya.

Vijay Thaker, the RSS Prachar head of Gujarat, said, “With the elections round the corner, there were discussions regarding them at the programme. Social harmony was the main point of discussion. Since elections are such an important part of democracy, we want and suggested that there should be 100 percent participation of the public in exercising their rights.”

Thaker, however, said he wasn’t aware of the meeting in Delhi. “If such a meeting had happened, I would have been aware of it. There are chances that old RSS members could have gone to Delhi and met the officials, but I am not aware about it.”

The RSS has in the past been the saviour of the ruling party, which is facing this level of anti-incumbency for the first time since taking charge in Gujarat in 1995.

Jaynarayan Vyas, a former state health minister and a spokesperson for the BJP, is likely to run from the Siddhpur constituency, his former seat, said a person familiar with the matter. The Siddhpur seat was held by Balvantsinh Rajput, who earlier defected from the Congress and was recently made chairperson of Gujarat Industrial Development Corp. (GIDC).

Among the old names likely to be replaced are former chief minister Anandiben Patel, Vallabhbhai Kakadia, Narottam Patel, Tarachand Chheda and Babu Patel, popularly known as Babu Jamna.

Gujarat goes to the polls in two phases, on 9 and 14 December.

In 2012, the BJP won 116 of the 182 seats in the state assembly. The voting turnout that year—71.32 percent—was the highest since 1980.

That means around 60 candidates from the previous state polls stand the chance of replacement.

Meanwhile, the Congress is almost through with it scrutiny of candidates, but is waiting for the BJP to declare its list first, said a senior Congress member, who did not want to be named.