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The unimportance of being Pandya

Ahmedabad, Nov. 25: After a killing wait, Haren Pandya was told he could not contest from Ellis Bridge, but was being blessed with the privilege of nominating a candidate of his own.

Pandya, who was minister of state for home in Narendra Modi’s government but fell foul of the chief minister, made what he could of a bargain he had not been offered. He picked loyalist Bhavin Sheth for a constituency he had represented for three terms.

Even that might have eluded him had not former chief minister Keshubhai Patel and Union textile minister Kashiram Rana insisted on some sort of a face-saving gesture.

When Sheth, a municipal councillor and an engineer by profession like his mentor, filed his nomination papers, Pandya accompanied him in a show of solidarity. Asked about his next move, Pandya said he was committed to Sheth, a pledge political observers are sceptical about.

For the moment, Pandya intends to remain loyal to the party. While announcing last night that he was not going to contest, he had said the controversy was causing embarrassment to the party, which, as a loyal soldier, he could not allow.

BJP sources admitted that Pandya might not have to do anything openly to damage the party. The Brahmins are already quite unhappy with the way the chief minister made Pandya’s candidature a prestige issue. Besides, the way the controversy dominated all other issues in a party going into a crucial election has demoralised supporters.

Humbled so badly, Pandya might seek small revenge in a victory margin for the BJP that is lower than what he had won by.

Modi’s critics were quick to smell the “Pandya effect” in the less-than-expected turnout of party supporters when the chief minister arrived at the government polytechnic here to file his nomination. Rival Keshubhai’s presence alongside Modi was meant to convey the impression of a party united behind the two leaders.

Modi also took the blessings of Keshubhai. “It is with the blessings of Keshubhai that I am going to contest polls.”

Dekho dekho kaun aaya, Gujarat ka sher aaya (See who has come, it is the lion of Gujarat),” shouted party supporters.

But even BJP leaders were surprised by the lack of enthusiasm. There seemed to be more people when Modi’s opponent, Congress nominee Yatin Oza, filed his nomination for the Maninagar constituency.

After filing his nomination, Modi said the BJP would seek “positive votes based on the government’s performance”. That was possibly the only concession he made to the high command in Delhi which had tried without success to get him to agree to nominate Pandya.

Last night, Modi had his election office opened by victims of the Godhra carnage in a symbolic gesture which indicated that — despite protestations — the event could still be used by the chief minister as the election issue.

One of the scenarios BJP leaders visualise for Pandya is that he is inducted into the Vajpayee government.

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