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Cong pits Bhatt wife vs Modi

Ahmedabad, Nov. 30: The wife of suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who has accused Narendra Modi of complicity in the 2002 riots, today filed her nomination as Congress candidate against the chief minister from the Maninagar seat in Ahmedabad.

Shweta Bhatt is not expected to defeat Modi from a constituency he had won by 75,000 votes the last time but her candidature could embarrass the chief minister in more ways than one.

First, public attention will now focus on the controversy surrounding Bhatt and, by implication, on Modi’s alleged role in the 2002 violence at a time he is keen on an image makeover and an entry into national politics.

Second, Shweta is contesting with the avowed intention of asking “uncomfortable questions” and exposing the “lies and hype” behind Modi’s claims to good governance. She is expected to gain popular sympathy, especially among women, by highlighting how her husband was “harassed, victimised and put in jail for speaking the truth”.

“I shall meet people and raise uncomfortable questions about the lies and hype being spread,” Shweta, who turned 48 today, said when asked about her agenda. “I shall try to bring people back from the 3D image (hype) and make them aware of the stark reality in Gujarat.”

Yesterday, the widow of former minister Haren Pandya, who later became a Modi critic and was murdered in 2003, entered the fray as candidate for Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party. Jagruti Pandya has stopped short of blaming the unsolved murder on Modi but claims the BJP “betrayed” Haren.

Shweta filed her papers and left minutes before Modi arrived to file his. She was accompanied by her husband.

Bhatt had told the Supreme Court in April 2011 that at a meeting on the night of the Godhra fire, Modi had instructed the police brass to let Hindus “vent their ire”.

He was arrested in September last year on the charge that he had forced a driver to sign an affidavit that falsely claimed Bhatt’s presence at the February 2002 meeting. Bhatt is on bail and remains suspended.

Shweta said she had made up her mind to fight elections during her husband’s 17 days in custody. “Activists and supporters used to throng our place every evening to cheer us up. They would organise candlelight processions and sing songs. This made me feel good,” she said.

“Until then I had lived only for myself. But when unknown people came over to support us, I decided I too would be available for other people who might need me. I was a transformed person: I started joining activities and speaking at various forums.”

Bhatt said he supported his wife’s decision.

BJP national vice-president Purushottam Rupala sought to play down the impact of Shweta’s candidature. “Everybody is free to fight against anybody. But who is Shweta Bhatt? Is she a leader?” he said.