Mehsana district may not be very good for the Bharatiya Janata Party that cannot bank anymore on the votes of minorities, several of whom had voted for the party in the last two elections.
What the BJP can seek solace from is that Muslims constitute only seven per cent of the vote bank in Mehsana. As many as 386 of the 1,358 polling booths have been identified as sensitive in the district, where 72 people were killed during riots.
"We have asked for 20 companies of paramilitary forces. Some are already patrolling sensitive areas like Kadi and Unjha," says Mehsana's Superintendent of Police A K Sharma. Sharma says that there is no law and order problem and all those displaced during the violence have their names on the voting lists in the district.
But Jayanti Barot, Rajya Sabha member of Parliament, contends that the divide is entirely media-created. She claims that the riots will not have any impact on the voters because security and development issues dominate. "The Muslims of Gujarat live peacefully. Only some of them are fundamentalist and cause problems."
In Kadi, which Gujarat Finance Minister Nitin Patel has represented for 10 years, the Congress is upbeat about the chances of its candidate, Baldeb Thakore. Congressmen claim that the absence of the Janata Dal in the fray this time will ensure the BJP's defeat.
Suresh Kadam, who runs a silver shop in this town, does not feel Patel had anything to do with the riots and will return "because he has given us roads, water and electricity". Right across, Hanif, also a shopowner, says he voted for Patel last time, but this time the riots are on his mind.
While state Minister for Transport Narayan Patel from Unjha is pitted against Jai Prakash Patel of the Congress, another BJP MLA, Khoda Patel, is fighting Jiva Patel in Mehsana.
The Congress claims that the scheduled castes, the third largest group in Mehsana, will not vote for the BJP, which in turn says development of the region will bring it back to power.
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