Purnesh Modi’s appointment as the BJP’s incharge for the Union Territory of Daman, Diu, and Dadra & Nagar Haveli follows his criminal defamation suit against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, which subsequently led to his conviction and brief disqualification as a Lok Sabha MP.
Given that Purnesh had been unceremoniously shunned out of his ministry months ahead of the 2022 Gujarat Assembly elections, the appointment is also being perceived as “redemption” for the leader, if not a “reward” for the case he won against Rahul.
Purnesh will hold the post of UT in-charge for three years, and said his primary focus will be to ensure the party’s victory in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
“I will work with local teams and strengthen the party at the grassroots level (booth level) to ensure electoral benefits for the BJP. We believe power can be attained through a strong organisation. My focus will lie on booth-level political and micro management,” he said.
The Dadra & Nagar Haveli Lok Sabha seat is currently held by Kalaben Delkar, the widow of former seven-time MP Mohan Delkar, who died of suspected suicide in a Mumbai hotel in 2021. Delkar, an influential tribal leader, had won the seat as an Independent in 2019, but had later moved to the JD(U). His wife was elected as MP in November 2021 on a Shiv Sena ticket.
The other Lok Sabha seat in the UT is held by the BJP’s Lalu Patel.
Delkar’s death had led to consternation in the BJP ranks as the Daman, Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli UT administrator, Praful Khoda Patel, was among the nine people named in the abetment to suicide case. The Bombay High Court had later quashed the case. Khoda Patel was also given additional charge as the Administrator of Lakshadweep.
BJP leaders believe that Purnesh’s Gujarati roots will help the party in the two Lok Sabha constituencies, which are geographically connected to Gujarat, especially in the Delkar stronghold of Dadra & Nagar Haveli. “His appointment has spread a positive wave among party leaders and workers. This is the first time that a Gujarati has been appointed as incharge. Local leaders and workers were less interested in working with former incharges like Vinod Sonkar and Vidhya Rahatkar,” senior BJP leader Dipak Jadhav, who has been associated with the party in the region for 33 years, said.
An OBC leader, Purnesh was minister for roads in the previous Bhupendra Patel Cabinet before he was stripped of his berth in August 2022. He has been an active member of the BJP in Surat for over two decades, and he has impressed with his organisational skills as BJP Surat city unit for two terms between 2010 and 2016.
He won his first Assembly election in a 2012 bypoll from Surat West, following the demise of sitting MLA Kishor Vankawala. He went on to win the seat again in 2017 and 2022.
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According to some sources, Purnesh’s appointment might ease his way onto the national scene.
Purnesh had filed a criminal defamation case against Rahul Gandhi in a Surat court in 2019 over the Congress leader’s remark implying that all thieves were called Modi, at a rally in Karnataka’s Kolar. On March 23 this year, Chief Judicial Magistrate H H Varma convicted Rahul, leading to his disqualification as a Lok Sabha MP. In August, the Supreme Court stayed the Congress leader’s conviction, following which he was reinstated as an MP.
As UT in-charge, Purnesh says he hopes to connect the organisation and the administration. “We cannot interfere with the administration, but can develop a cordial relationship. We will definitely win the upcoming elections once a strong organisational base is established,” he says.