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In Maninagar, the only issue is 'Islamic terrorism'

Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Maninagar

Two friends, Arun Aggarwal (45), a painter, and Suresh Kumar Shevkani (46), a welder, are sitting on a bench next to the latter's shop in Maninagar, Ahmedabad.

They usually don't pass time this way, but since February 28 the business is down and they have a lot of time to chitchat.

If you ask them who they would vote for, without batting an eyelid they would say, "Narendra Modi, the caretaker chief minister of Gujarat and the BJP candidate from Maninagar."

They don't care if their business suffers under the rule of Modi. "So what! Do you think we will grow by leaps and bounds under the rule of the Congress? Gujarat is facing a threat from Islamic terrorism and it is only Modi who can save us," says Aggarwal.

"The world economy is in recession. My son is in Dubai and he tells me that the sheikhs are going to throw him out of his job because of recession. So to blame Modi for the downturn in business is wrong," adds Shevkani.

Though the BJP manifesto does not mention a word about Godhra, there is no denying that the people of Maninagar consider him their saviour and feel that only he can save the state.

"Under the Congress and Keshubhai Patel's [former BJP chief minister] rule, Hindus used to get bashed up by these Muslims and the police used to watch helplessly. But thanks to Modi the Hindus have united and proved to the Muslims that they too can give a fitting reply," says Aggarwal.

"These Muslims killed Keshubhai's son-in-law… when he was the chief minister. But if Modi rules Gujarat, they wouldn't dare to kill a single Hindu," says Shevkani.

Bharatbhai Trivdei, a travel agent, interrupts: "These people hoist black flags and Pakistani national flags in their area on Independence Day. They bashed up Hindus during the riots in 1985, 1991 and 1995. The police did nothing to stop them. But this time the police was with us. And I feel that if another riots take place, Modi would be able to save the Hindus."

Two kilometres away is Yatin Ojha, the Congress candidate. His strategy is to tell the voters that Modi has ruined Gujarat and there is no business left in the state.

"My slogan is simple: prosperity, happiness and safety. These three things are missing from Gujarat under Modi's rule," says Ojha.

Tell him that the majority of the Hindus feel secure under Modi, Ojha shouts back, "You must have met wrong people. The silent majority is with us. And you will know about this on December 15, the day the results are announced."

Maninagar constituency is divided into five areas: Maninagar area, Bage Firdaus, Amraiwadi, Kolora and Bhaipura. Out of the 15 municipality seats here, the Congress won nine in the 1998 municipal elections.

"You know there are 37,000 voters in this constituency who have lost money in cooperative banks run by the BJP. Do you think these people are fools to voter for Modi?" asks Umeshbhai Patel, a close friend of Ojha.

However, Kamlesh Patel, a BJP leader who has represented Maninagar in the assembly, says, "I am sure Modi will win by more than 75,000 votes. I won from this seat in 1998 by 46,000 votes so I don't see any difficulty for Modi…

"The banks come under SEBI and RBI. So the state government has very little role to play in that. Moreover, the Congress is exaggerating the figures of the number of people affected. And let me tell you that most of the board members of the bankrupt banks belong to the Congress and not the BJP."

Ask him if he feels that Modi switched from Rajkot II to Maninagar because he wanted a safe seat he says, "I myself told Modiji to contest from this seat. Moreover, he is also a voter from this constituency. As a popular leader from Gujarat it would have been difficult for Modi to travel all over the state from Rajkot. So I told him to contest from here."

Maninagar has been a BJP stronghold since 1990. Kamlesh Patel has won the seat three times in a row. In 1990 he won the seat by 30,000 votes. In 1995 he won by 50,000 votes and in 1998 by 46,000 votes.

But the supporters of Ojha, who won the Sabarmati seat last time by a margin of 85,000 votes, feel that he can defeat Modi.

Ojha had won in 1998 on a BJP ticket. However, he resigned from the party following differences with then chief minister Keshubhai Patel.

Fifteen of those who died in the Sabarmati Express were from Godhra and more than 400,000 people attended their cremation.

"Even if we don't talk… people cannot forget that tragic incident," says Patel.