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Patels battle it out in Keshubhai's constituency
Sunil Gatade in Visavadar |
December 10, 2002 14:48 IST
The Patels are battling it out in Visavadar, the former constituency of one of the tallest leaders of the community Keshubhai Patel, with the BJP being given a run for its money. And, Keshubhai has not made it any easier for the BJP by staying away from the place.
All the three prominent candidates are Patels, who constitute over 50 per cent of the 150,000 electorate in this rural constituency in Junagarh district. There are three other candidates, including one from the NCP, in the fray.
On the face of it, the going appears to be tough for Keshubhai Bhalana, 'hand-picked' by Keshubhai Patel as the BJP nominee, who is pitted against Keshubhai Ambaliya (Congress) and Bipin Ramani, who is contesting as an independent following denial of a ticket by the Congress.
District BJP vice-president Manubhai Bhut said Keshubhai Patel would be vigorously campaigning in the constituency at the fag end of the electioneering as it is a 'prestige' issue for the former chief minister. Keshubhai's son Bharat is personally in charge of the campaign of the party candidate, BJP leaders said.
However, the Congress does not seem to have taken advantage of Keshubhai's absence as no state or national level leader has come to the town for campaigning. Local Congress leader Kirti Kamdar says there is no need for it as 'we are well placed'.
The party's fortunes seem to be on the upswing what with it having taken control of the Junagarh district panchayat as also the Visavadar taluka panchayat in the election held two years back.
The Congress campaign is focusing on the 'failure' of the BJP to develop the area despite Keshubhai Patel being the chief minister for several years.
"Narmada waters were brought to the area with much fanfare by Keshubhai (Patel). But the waters are scarcely available to farmers now. There is also the severe problem of power cuts for several hours every day," says Kamdar.
Another Congressman says the cancellation of a number of state transport buses from the area due to problems being faced by the state transport corporation has affected students and other regular commuters.
BJP leaders, however, dismiss the charges and insist the party would face no problem in retaining the seat, which was won with a record 73.40 per cent of the vote by Keshubhai Patel last time.
In Gujarat, both the Congress and the BJP are attempting to win over the powerful Patel community, which had supported the latter in the last election after the party projected Keshubhai as the chief minister.
This time, the Congress has given tickets to as many as 41 Patels while the BJP has nominated 45 candidates from the community, half of these from the Saurashtra region, considered a Patel bastion.
The BJP is using the Vaghela card against the Congress reminding the electorate about Shankarsinh Vaghela's revolt against Keshubhai Patel when the latter was the chief minister.
"A vote for the Congress is a vote for Shankarsinh Vaghela," is the catchphrase of the BJP.
The Congress is trying to cash in on the resentment in the community by the unceremonious removal of Keshubhai as Gujarat chief minister, which also resulted in the centre of power moving away from Saurashtra.
However, both parties are worried over Ramani's presence in the fray. Son of a former Congress MLA from the area, Ramani is president of the Powerloom Owners' Association at Surat and has earned a name for himself in Visavadar, claim his supporters.
Even some local Congress leaders admitted that Ramani would corner a good number of votes despite being an independent.
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