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Ghosts from the past lurk on BJP list

The BJPís list of candidates for the forthcoming Assembly polls shows a party at odds with itself.

Tensions over Ellis Bridge in Ahmedabad have spilled out into the open. Sitting MLA Haren Pandya has held Ellis Bridge on three successive occasions. Pandya became a familiar face in the nationís capital during the Keshubhai era. A mechanical engineer with a deep RSS background, he resigned from Narendra Modiís ministry. Resisting pressure to cede the seat for Modi, he found his name absent from the list of candidates and announced the withdrawal of his claim on Sunday night.

Modi seemed keen to eliminate from the field a possible rival. Unlike former chief minister Keshubhai Patel who is in his seventies, Pandya is from the same generation as the caretaker chief minister. He is also a Brahmin, never a disadvantage in the Sangh fraternity.

Modiís deep insecurity about adversaries is a product of his own political past. It is unusual in India for the chief minister to be a person who has no past record in the electoral arena.

As an RSS worker and then pracharak or ideologue, he first shot to fame due to his role as an organiser in the rath yatras of Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. In keeping with the low profile often kept by Sangh organisers, he has never even held an elected post at the municipal or panchayat level.

He was absent from the state for a decade when he was in the party central office in New Delhi. That was when the BJP emerged as the prime force both in the Lok Sabha and in the Assembly.

Modi fought the first elections in his life last February and even then found the margin in his seat, Rajkot II, drop by 50 per cent. This is rare for a sitting chief minister contesting a by-election in a safe seat. Prior to October 2001, few imagined he would be the successor to Keshubhai Patel.

The aftermath of Godhra and the massacres in the state have found him hailed as a Hindu hriday samrat or one who holds sway over Hindu loyalties. Even the ad campaigns run by the party and the state government prominently feature only his own photograph without so much as a nod at the Prime Minister or deputy Prime Minister, the acknowledged crowd-pullers of the party. The yatras from September onwards have sought to put him on a pedestal above other leaders.

The rumpus over ticket distribution shows he has not always had his way.

In the outgoing House, the BJP had 117 seats, and most MLAs have won re-nomination. The exceptions have been constituencies held by known Modi baiters or those sought after by a handful of loyalists.

Among the latter is Anandibehn Patel. Her shift to the safe haven of Patan in north Gujarat has won the ire of locally rooted leaders.

The tilt towards the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has also sparked protest. Yet the two organisations are perhaps more enthusiastic about Modi than sections of the BJP are.

Gopalsinh Solanki, who was central to the defeat of breakaway MP Shankersinh Vaghelaís election bid four years ago, is finding the seat allocated to a VHP activist.

Still, the pattern is clear enough. The bulk of those who contested in 1998 have been nominated. The party can leave little to chance given the enormous stakes in Gujarat.

After all, the BJP now rules in only four of 28 states, and none is a major one. Sitting MLAs, if denied tickets are capable of creating enormous problems for the party. Yet, the logic of re-nomination is what worries Modiís own strategists.

The 1998 legislative party was packed with Keshubhai loyalists. Not only did he have a free hand in candidate selection on that occasion; his long years in the hurly burly of the Vidhan Sabha served him well. After all, he was a minister in the first ever non-Congress ministry as far back as 1975, when Modi was still an RSS ideologue.

Hence Patelís insistence that the legislative party alone can select the chief minister. He feels a leader parachuted from New Delhi may well find it difficult to win over the MLAs.

Modiís battles have only begun. The BJP now scents victory over the Congress at the hustings. But there will be no swift end to the war within.

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