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Spread terror, get ticket

Lunawada (Panchmahal), Dec. 8: Kalubhai Maliwad is no ordinary BJP candidate contesting from Lunawada. His USP is that he has spent seven months behind bars.

He is to Lunawada what former Bajrang Dal leader Haresh Bhatt is to Godhra: a symbol of Hindu militancy, a self-proclaimed saviour of the Hindu community. That’s his claim to fame and that’s why he has been given a ticket.

Accused of leading a frenzied mob that burnt alive 45 Muslims in Limdia Chowki, 49-year-old Maliwad has no qualms projecting himself as the man who can save Hindus from “Islamic militants”. Pictures of him alongside the burning Sabarmati Express are everywhere in this Patel and Brahmin-dominated Assembly constituency where Muslims were targeted during the post-Godhra riots.

After the train carnage in February, Godhra town had been “incident free” but rural Lunawada, Kalol and Halol had burnt. Maliwad, the BJP’s Lunawada taluka president, was jailed along with seven others for rioting and murder. He was acquitted only two months ago by a local court.

Godhra-based advocate Yusuf Charkha says the way the case was handled there was no way Maliwad would not be acquitted. Witnesses were not examined at all, he alleges.

However, for the BJP, Maliwad’s acquittal is proof of his innocence. “If he was guilty, the court would not have acquitted him,” says Vasudevbhai Mahendru, the BJP’s Panchmahal district president.

Local BJP leader Murli Mulchandani says the charges against Maliwad were “politically motivated”. Those who claim to have seen him leading the killer mob were Congressmen, he alleges.

But Sirajuddin Dandi, a minority leader, says no one believes Maliwad is innocent. “He was given a ticket for what he did. This man was actually rewarded for his act whereas Bhupendra Solanki, former BJP MP who was promised the Godhra ticket, was denied because he was considered too soft on Muslims,” he says.

Maliwad’s reputation as a “terror” may come in handy for the BJP. It could stop people from voting in a constituency where sitting Congress MLA Surpalsinh Solanki has a strong caste base and enjoys goodwill among the Muslims.

Says Iqbal Surti, a resident of Lunawada: “Muslims of Pandarwada (Maliwad hails from the village) apprehend trouble on December 12 and that may deter them from going to polling booths. Every Muslim house in the village was burnt the day after the Godhra incident. It was in this village that 27 people were killed. But if arrangements are made, they will be able to vote.”

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