Amita Shah in Ahmedabad
A calendar showing Chief Minister Narendra Modi with a slogan BJP hamara hit rakshak [Bharatiya Janata Party is the protector of our interests] hangs on the wall of Narender's fruit juice shop in Ellisbridge constituency, where sitting legislator and Modi detractor Haren Pandya was denied a ticket.
Narender is emphatic that he would vote for Modi, even though his favourite Pandya is not contesting this time.
A BJP stronghold, Ellisbridge is a predominantly middle and upper middle class constituency, with mostly educated voters. The Muslim population is negligible in the 400,000-odd voters.
Narender is a BJP loyalist, like many around him in the commercial area of this constituency where he runs his juice shop. "My shop remained closed for eight to ten days during the violence. But we have been voting for the BJP for years," he said.
Asked whether the denial of ticket to Pandya mattered, he answered in the negative. "We are voting for Modi and the BJP."
Bhai Shankar, who runs a teashop in Ellisbridge, feels the same way as Narender. "It does not matter that Harenbhai is not contesting."
But the Congress party said that Modi is not seen as BJP's face here and disgruntled voters resenting denial of ticket to Pandya would side with it.
Shaktisinh Gohil, state Congress spokesman, said, "It [Pandya not contesting] will make a lot of difference. After all Pandya has nursed this constituency for years."
Pandya, however, shows no signs of resentment. "I am ensuring the new candidate wins. The BJP will come back to power," he said confidently.
The fight is primarily between Pandya loyalist Bhawin Sheth, a BJP corporator, and Congress' Pradeep Roowalla, a retired deputy municipal commissioner, despite four other candidates, including one each from the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Samajwadi Party being in the fray.
Sheth said there is no erosion in the vote base because of Pandya's absence, as he is his "mentor".
Ellisbridge, which falls in Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani's Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency, was one of the constituencies Modi wanted during the previous assembly by-elections. But Pandya had refused to vacate the seat.
It is apparently this grudge, which made him deny a ticket to Pandya, a former revenue minister and Keshubhai Patel loyalist.
Ellisbridge had recorded the highest percentage of votes polled for a winning candidate in 1998.
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