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Acid test of Hindutva card in Vadodara
Amberish K Diwanji |
December 10, 2002 23:25 IST
The acid test of whether or not the Hindutva card has made an electoral impact in Gujarat is in Vadodara district, which comprises of 13 assembly constituencies.
In the 1997 elections, Vadodara defied the Bharatiya Janata Party swing and elected nine Congress candidates. To rub salt into the BJP's wound, a Congress nominee, Dalsukhbhai Prajapati, emerged victorious from Sayajigunj [western Vadodara] -- an urban area considered a bastion of the saffron party.
This time the BJP is confident of doing well. Vadodara district, which is next to Panchmahal district where Godhra lies, was badly affected during the riots with scores of Muslims being killed and hundreds of houses being burned.
The riots polarised the Hindus and Muslims into two distinct camps, and the BJP has reason to believe that it will be the beneficiary.
"We will easily win most of the seats," said a BJP official in the Vadodara office, adding, "we will face a slight fight in Sayajigunj and perhaps a couple of rural seats like Padra."
Of the 13 seats, four are reserved for the scheduled tribes, who are in the eastern part of the district that borders Madhya Pradesh, while one, Karjan, west of Vadodara city, is reserved for the scheduled caste.
During the riots, the adivasis took up the Hindutva cause and attacked Muslims, which shattered the Congress' plan of winning the votes of the two communities. Now, many adivasis in the rural belt are inclined to vote for the BJP, which is why the party is smiling.
Not surprisingly, the Congress pooh-poohs the BJP claim. "We will not only retain the seats, we will improve upon them," said a Congress city unit official, who requested anonymity.
The Congress believes it will sweep Vadodara City [in eastern Vadodara] constituency, which covers the old, walled city and includes the Wadi locality, infamous for its communal riots. "The Muslims will vote en bloc for us," asserted the Congress official. In Vadodara City, Muslims form a sizeable percentage though the exact figure is unknown.
The city and its environs saw visits by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and caretaker Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the BJP, and Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh for the Congress.
The battle for the four constituencies reserved for the scheduled tribes is acute. The Congress is leaving no stone unturned to retain these four constituencies. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, himself a tribal, spent much time in the region selling the Congress.
On the other hand, the BJP is banking on what it perceives is the Hindutvaisation of the adivasis. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, affiliated to the BJP, is active in the adivasi belt to the benefit of the BJP.
In Sayajigunj, which houses many of the urbane, affluent citizens and hosts big hotels and fancy eating joints, Prajapati faces Jitubhai Sukhadia of the BJP, the same person he had defeated last year when by-election was held for the constituency.
Many in the BJP were not happy when Sukhadia was re-nominated for the Sayajigunj constituency. "But he is a close friend of Modi; they were together in the RSS and Modi nominated him," said a BJP official.
"It seems Modi has promised Sukhadia that he will ensure his victory," the official said, adding, "this time Sukhadia will certainly win."
This is clearly Sukhadia's best chance to get into the legislature. While many in the city appear to have a grouse against the BJP for its many failures, Modi is spared criticism. The caretaker chief minister is the hero and reason to vote for the party.
"I think the Congress is likely to win in Sayajigunj because Prajapati is very strong here," said Amit Shukla, a marketing executive. "But I will vote for the BJP because I like Modi," he added.
His colleagues, who were taking a lunch break, concurred. "I too will vote for the BJP because of Modi and I think the BJP will win this time," said Dilip Besaria.
A tea stall owner in Dandia Bazar, which comes in the Raopura constituency, currently with the BJP, insisted that the saffron party will lose. "When the riots occurred, this entire [Dandia Bazar main] road was under curfew and all of us businessmen suffered huge losses. We didn't have food to eat because we could not do our business. All of us shopkeepers will vote for the Congress," said Vijay Parikh.
But while the small business establishment owners, who depend on daily earnings, are upset about the riots, those who own bigger establishments and the salaried class appear solidly behind Modi.
On December 12, the citizens of Vadodara will decide between Hindutva and economic concerns.