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Home > News > Report

In Saurashtra, the gloves are off

Krishnakumar in Saurashtra | December 04, 2007 12:09 IST

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Gujarat Elections 2007

Among the Gujarat regions that will go to polls on December 11, is the key Saurashtra-Kutch region.

In 2002, the Bharatiya Janata Party thumped the Congress 38-17 in this 56-assembly seat region.

In four elections from 1990, the Bharatiya Janata Party has won 34 seats thrice or more times, including a 27-year reign in 10 seats.

By all indications, the Congress is set to reverse this lopsided trend in 2007.

"Everyone, including the party, agrees that there is no way the BJP is going to repeat the sweep of 2002 for obvious regions. Hindutva is pass�. Though it will gain, what is still not clear is whether the Congress can take any lead from this region," Deepak Rajani, the group editor of the Gujarati Aaj Kaal paper, said.

The current election, Rajani said, will be fought on planks that were earlier unseen of.

"This time, no developmental issue is being debated. It is a two-pronged campaign from both sides. First is Modi and only Modi. Either you are with him or against him. The second is the crucial one, that of the caste factor," he said.

But, for those who know the region, it should come as no surprise that there is no developmental issue to be discussed.

The region is a very prosperous one. There is hardly any difference between the urban and rural places in this region.

"It's not that Modi has done a lot in the five years. Some of the developmental work like providing electricity for the farmers was started in Keshubhai Patel's time. Modi, being the shrewd politician he is, has taken credit for what Kehsbhai began and in some cases he has taken credit for projects that were already implemented in Keshubhai's time," a neutral observer, who did not want to be named, said.

Regarding the Modi angle, there is no doubt how the opponents are lined up. The BJP, as senior leader Arun Jaitley accepted in a interview, is putting all its eggs in the Modi basket.

The Congress, with ample help from the BJP rebels, is training all its guns against the chief minister. "In this election, our opponent is not a party. It is Modi. And it is not a personal battle. As far as the Congress is concerned, Modi is the symbol of violence," leader of the opposition Arjun Morwaria said.

Adding to Modi's woes are the rebels led by former BJP chief ministers Keshubhai Patel, Suresh Mehta and other strong leaders like Kashiram Rana, Vallabbhai Khateria and Gordhan Zadaphia.

The rebels, some of whom are contesting on Congress tickets, and some of whom are managing a backroom campaign against Modi, have more at stake than the Congress and hence are going full steam.

"If Modi loses, then it will be the end of his growth. If he wins, the political career of the rebel leaders will be finished," Rajani said.

Probably even bigger than the Modi factor is the caste factor.

The Patel community, which has been with the BJP for more than a decade, is divided along sub-castes this time.

While the Kadva Patels are still with Modi due to the prominence they have enjoyed in his rule, the Leuva Patels are now against Modi.

"The Leuva Patels are very dominant in the region. Their votes will decide the winner in most of the constituencies in Saurashtra," Rajani said.

The Leuva Patels -- backed by the rebel leaders -- have been running a campaign against Modi at the grassroots level.

Siddharth Parmar, a Dalit leader who is now working against Modi, said the caste thing is a backlash of a phenomenon started by Modi.

"He comes from the Gachchi caste which is not very dominant. So, he has always worked towards dividing the others castes so that no opponents gains. Eventually, he distanced the Leuva Patels by entirely sidelining them and this is coming back to him," Parmar said.

With so many factors working against Modi, there is still reason to believe he will pull it off.

Rajani said though it is a do-or-die battle for both the rebels and Modi, the Congress might just have done itself and the rebels a disfavour by delaying the announcements of the nominations in the region.

"One thing that might work in the favour of Modi are the Congress rebels. Yes, Congress rebels. Quite a few BJP rebel leaders will be contesting this election on a Congress ticket. But there was an inordinate delay in the nomination process. Thus, Congress leaders who were hopeful of getting a nomination but were denied due the mast minute decision, are contesting as independent candidates in many constituencies. It is a very likely possibility that the votes that they gain will be the margin in which the BJP will scrape through in these constituencies," Rajani said.