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Not a cakewalk for Narendra Modi this time
In third phase of the election fate of 359 candidates contesting for 26 seats will be decided on April 30. Gujarat has only two main parties in fray, but presence of many smaller outfits can give surprise as the polling is expected to be low
BJP’S SPEARHEAD against Congress, Narendra Modi, has tough task in his own state during phase three of polling. For legislative assembly he delivered and had proved all the analysts and surveys go wrong. This time things are bit difficult. Congress candidates on most of the seats got more time to campaign, but they are afraid of CM’s personal popularity in the state.
 
Strategically BJP in Gujarat tried to keep debate between Modi and Congress and not a comparison between PM and PM-in-waiting. BJP’s spearhead against Congress Narendra Modi has worked with soar throat daily beyond midnight.
 
The chief minister and the party president were targeting, this year to improve the best performance of 20 out of 26, in 1996. But the tally seems to stop between 14 and 17. Home minister Amit Shah takes feedback from intelligence department daily, but things do not seem to be encouraging.
 
Two ministers Kaushik Patel and Anadiben Patel have been given charge to bring back Patel community into BJP’s fold, a difficult task this time. At least on five seats: Patan, Dahod, Surat, Junagadh and Surat, besides Gandhinagar the danger of Patel votes going against BJP loom large. Even Congress is not sure whether other than Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad and Rajkot they would get votes of this community.
 
Declaring April 30 a holiday for factories and offices as per the directives of election commissioner has created an atmosphere of vacation. Many middle class voters would plan to travel to Mount Abu and Udaipur from North Gujarat and to Mumbai and Saputara from southern belt. Low turnout at polls will make the outcome even more unpredictable.
 
In 2007, Sonia Gandhi had made a mistake of attacking Modi personally and gave chance to later to make mockery of her and bind voters with sentiments of safety. This time the Apex Court’s decision of directing SIT to probe role of chief minister in 2002 riots has come only a day before the end of campaigning and Sonia succeeded in not making a lose delivery against Modi.
 
Modi has an art of catching the pulse of public sentiments. At a public meeting in Porbander he encourages the crowd to shout more loudly: “ Bharat Mata ki Jai” and says in Gujarati that this sound should reach Pakistan. Once charged, he starts attacking UPA government raising local sentiments. The Congress government failed to do anything for the fishermen languishing in Pakistani jails. He refers to Sachar Committee report which says Muslims are well off in Gujarat. It reminds me of the style of Indira Gandhi.
 
However, Congress has upper hand in Anand, Bardoli, Dahod, Chhota Udaipur and Panchmahal. BJP is comfortable in Vadodara, Ahmedabad (W), Bharuch, Kutch and Surat.
 
Betrayal of Patels will hurt BJP most in Saurashtra. The anti Modi group had helped Congress win Amreli by a margin of 2,000 votes. Congress gave ticket to the wife of sitting MP following complaints. Narayan Kachhiya of BJP is a fresh face and is trying to encash dissidence within Congress to defeat Nila Thummar.
 
In Bhavnagar, the BJP and the Congress have fielded a Kshatriya candidate, whereas the rebel leader and controversial former BJP minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphia, is also in the fray as the president of his newly-formed MahaGujarat Janata Party (MJP). Zadaphia is likely to cut into BJP votes, mainly of his Patel community.
 
This would affect the BJP’s candidate Rajendrasinh Rana’s fifth term at the parliament from the constituency.
 
Since 1957, Charotar region has always supported Congress candidate except on three occasions. In 1962, Swantra Party and in 1989 and 1999 BJP was lucky to win this seat. This region has two seats and influence on the neighbouring Nadiad. In Nadiad there is no local issue. All will depend on the caste equations and the polling percentage in areas of strengths.
 
In Vadodara Congress and in Panchmahal BJP has put up weak candidates. Local issues are also in the favour of strong candidates making outcome more predictable.
 
From Navsari Congress had to replace the candidate following protest of the local workers. First they had announced Bhavna Patel, who is now replaced by Dhansukh Rajput. BJP’s CR Patil has tainted image. Even his selection was not taken well within the party circles. Replacement of woman candidate is publicised as anti-women stand of the party.
 
Mehsana is a traditional BJP stronghold, in 1980 when BJP had won only two seats from the entire country, one was this. The chief minister is also from this area so is very prestigious for both the parties. Congress had won this seat by a margin of 14,511 in the last election. Both parties have fielded Patel candidates. Jayashree Patel of BJP is taking on Jiva Patel of Congress.
 
Patan, another constituency in North Gujarat is a Thakore dominated seat Bhavsinh Rathod is against Jagdish Rathod of Congress MLA from Dehgam. In 2004, the seat was won by BJP with a lead of 23,624 votes. Bhavsinh Rathore was also Congress MLA and has changed loyalty just before elections. Both candidates belong to the Thakor community, which forms the largest group in the population of the constituency.
 
BJP has re-nominated Harisinh Chaudhary to win Banaskantha which he had lost by a whisker margin of 6,928 last time to Congress’ Mukesh Gadhvi. In Sabarkantha, BJP has regrouped welll to take back the seat from Mahendrasinh Chauhan.
 
Kishan Patel of Congress is defending from Valsad which he had won by a margin of 44,486. Dhiru Patel of BJP has clean image. In neighbouring seats of Bardoli and Surat from Congress side some glamour of Mahima Choudhary, Bollywood actress was used to draw crowd. How much of it gets converted to votes needs to be seen. State government has mishandled two key issues in Surat – the financial crisis in diamond industry and the devastating flood in 2006. Congress failed to cultivate these issues.
 
Two positive factors other than Modi for BJP in this election are – it has fielded grassroots worker and Congress does not have any strong point except the face of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But the negatives are more. Internal dissidence, anti incumbency, disheartening of Patels, non cooperation from VHP and RSS are irksome.
 
Maha Gujarat Janata Party (MJP) formed by rebel group of BJP is getting good support from disheartened Patels. VHP’s Pravin Togadia has ego clash with Modi. They have raised the issue of temples razed by the state government, which were illegally constructed.
 
Both Congress and BJP are worried for small party candidates, not knowing whose votes will get diverted. Candidates nominated by smaller parties like, MJP, NCP, SP and BSP will spoil chances of the major parties and may bring some surprising outcome. At least in six parliamentary constituencies in the state, namely, Bhavnagar, Surat, Patan, Mehsana and Ahmedabad East, Bharuch and Surendranagar, the contest would be affected by their presence.
 
BJP is also trying to make inroads into OBC bastions to counter loss of Patel vote bank. It has given ticket to six candidates Tribals are being given special treatment. Party began its campaign from the tribal region of Ambaji in the Banaskantha district.
 
Tribal leaders like Virendrasinh Gohil of Bharuch and Somaji Damor of Dahod left Congress to join BJP. The party won only one tribal seat, in 2004.
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