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|September 4, 1999||
Complacent Congress may get its comeuppance in Mandvi
P Rajendran in Mandvi
Mandvi was an assured Congress seat -- till now. Now it isn't all that certain which party will make it here.
Chhitubhai Gamit, the Congressman who represented Mandvi in the twelfth Lok Sabha, has seen his lead drop from close to a hundred thousand to as low as 16,000 in the last election. But he reportedly still held the edge, until Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee came along to give a speech. And there's nothing quite like a prime minister to help change one's mind.
Gamit is not helped by the fact that the two sugar mills he runs in Mandvi are closed. The resulting unemployment and disenchantment could go against him.
He also faces allegations of corruption. A schoolmaster who once lived in a one-bedroom-kitchen home, he now owns a bungalow worth Rs 4.5 million in Valod, complete with swimming pool. He also reportedly owns two flats in Surat, one in Delhi and a petrol pump.
His advantage lies in the fact that the Gamits, a community well represented in the area, will vote for him.
According to Bhavan Patel of Gothan, the people of Vyara, Bardoh and Sonagadh -- all assembly segments -- aren't interested in voting. There was between 35 and 46 per cent voting here last time, he said.
Vajpayee's visit may improve that, in the BJP's favour. And the party's candidate, Mansingh Patel, may have his task rendered a little easier by the presence in the fray of Sahadev Chowdhury of the Nationalist Congress Party.
Mansingh Patel, who was involved with the co-operative sugar mills and was a deputy speaker of the state assembly, is known to be a little brash and abrasive.
The NCP's Chowdhury, in contrast, has the advantage of being cultured, moneyed and politically well connected. The slice he takes away will certainly tell on the result.
Mahua Dave, convenor of the NCP in Gujarat, says, "The Congress has been enjoying this seat for the last 22 years. Even when Indira Gandhi was trounced, the Congress kept Mandvi."
He says he knows the problems at the Vyara sugar factory since he himself had fought for it in Delhi. Gamit mismanaged the factories, says Dave, and used the workers for other things besides.
According to him, the contest in Mandvi is between the BJP and the NCP. When it is pointed out that Vajpayee apparently didn't think so, for in his speech he aimed all his digs at the Congress, Dave argues that's because the PM sees things only from a national perspective. "He's thinking of beating the Congress and Sonia everywhere," he says.
Local Nikhil Kasawa, however, does not think so. When asked about Chowdhury's chances, he smiles and quips, "He too will take away something, won't he?"
A local journalist points out that while the Congress has the advantage of a strong support base, it lacks quality election management. However it may be, no one's really betting on any party here.
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