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The Congress hopes to put behind its wash-out in its domain of central Gujarat in the 2002 Assembly elections and reverse the tide which saw the BJP win all but seven of the 49 seats in the region hit by the worst post-Godhra violence.
With over one-fourth of the 182 assembly seats accounted by central Gujarat, the region is in the thick of a tough battle with BJP and Congress the main rivals in the two-phase elections.
Although 42 of the 49 constituencies are going to polls only in the second phase on Dec 16, national and tribal leaders have already swarmed the region and pulling all stops woo the voters.
While central Gujarat has traditionally been a Congress domain, the post-Godhra riots gave rich dividends to BJP in the previous polls.
Even though Congress is upbeat about clawing back, BJP is sparing no effort to retain the majority of the seats in this belt, according to poll observers.
The region--comprising districts of Vadodara, Kheda, Panchmahals, Anand, Dahod, Bharuch and Narmada -- has a large tribal population with pockets dominated by Muslims, both traditional supporters of the Congress.
But, the 2002 Assembly elections held after the post-Godhra riots, saw the tribals voting en-masse for the BJP with work done by the VHP and other Hindu organisations within the tribal communities as well as due to the Hindutva wave which swept across this belt being cited as possible factors.
However, Congress leaders say that with post-riots tension ebbing away, the party will make a "complete" come back.
"The riots changed everything. There was such a wave that almost all our contestants who had won for years from this belt, lost out even if by small margins. The adivasis now know that BJP cannot be trusted to protect their rights and this is what will make us go all the way," Rajendra Sihn, a Congress leader in Central Gujarat, claimed.
"The issue here is about roads, high electricity rates, transport and, of course, the basic land rights of the adivasis," he said.
The BJP, on the other hand, is banking heavily on Van Bandhu Yojana started by Chief Minister Narendra Modi [Images] in August this year. Under it, the state government has promised to spend huge sums of money for the development in the tribals areas in the next five years.
"Central Gujarat is very important to us since the last assembly elections as it saw a complete washout of the Congress in this belt. The programmes undertaken till now, including Van Bandhu Yojana for the welfare of the tribals, who constitute a large proportion of the people here, will see us holding onto all our seats that we won last time," says Yamal Vyas, the state BJP spokesperson.
The importance of Central Gujarat can be gauged from the fact that national and tribal leaders from both the parties have already started visiting various parts of this belt, 42 constituencies of which will go to polls only in the second phase.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi [Images] is among the national leaders to have held a rally in central Gujarat's Devgadh Baria area in January this year. There was a huge turnout of tribals for the rally.
Congress leaders point out that since the 2004 general elections, Congress organisations, especially the Youth Congress, have been active in this belt.
Political observers say that one of the main reasons for the Van Bandhu initiative undertaken by the BJP could have been due to the "success" of Gandhi's rally.
Both the central leaders from Gujarat, Shankersinh Vaghela and Narain Rathwa represent central Gujarat constituencies.
While one cannot gauge which way the vote will swing in the region this time, leaders from both the parties and political analysts do agree that it will be the main battle ground for the assembly polls.
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