The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Godhra vs governance

Ahmedabad, Oct. 28: Both the BJP and the Congress in Gujarat greeted the poll schedule announcement with claims of “full preparedness”, saying the battle would be fought on a Godhra-versus-governance plank.

The BJP hopes to retain power by consolidating the “Hindu vote” and ensuring that not too much spotlight is shed on the Narendra Modi government’s performance.

But the Congress said it would see to it that development becomes the key issue in the elections. A BJP minister conceded that a post-mortem of the government’s performance will wash away the gains of the perceived post-Godhra polarisation.

State BJP leader Nalin Bhatt said there is “a wave in favour of the BJP”. Careful to skirt any direct reference to Godhra or the riots, he added that “this election will be fought on issues like security and Gujaratis pride”.

But a senior VHP leader who will be contesting as a BJP candidate said Hindutva, not development or employment, is the issue in Gujarat. Claiming that there is a strong pro-BJP wave in the state, he said the BJP is likely to increase it tally by 25 seats .

In the last Assembly elections,the BJP had bagged 117 of the 182 Assembly seats. This time around, the party expects to do well because of perceived communal polarisation.

However, a section of the BJP disagrees with the hardliners who maintain that there is a wave.

The BJP’s claim to perform well is based on the overwhelming response Modi’s Gaurav Yatra is receiving. Modi has already covered most of the state, including Saurashtra, where the decisive electoral battle is to be fought.

With the VHP having decided to take part in the electoral battle, it has lined up several programmes to “awaken Hindus” before the elections which the parivar describes as a dharam yudh.

But Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Madhusudan Mistry said the party is confident of taking on Modi on the poor performance plank.

A former BJP minister said since there is no perceptible wave in favour of any political party, the picture will be clear only after the candidates are finalised by both the parties.

One of the “hidden factors’’ that could work against the BJP is Keshubhai Patel, the former chief minister who was ousted by the party last year. Patel, an influential Saurashtra leader, is still smarting from the humiliation.

Though he has been made the party’s election committee chairman, he has not forgotten his humiliation, Patel’s supporters said.

The powerful Patel lobby is already upset with the BJP for projecting Modi as the chief minister if the party comes back to power.

In 1998, the Patel factor helped the BJP win 58 of the 66 seats in Saurashtra and Kutch. It will be difficult to repeat the performance without the wholehearted support of the Patels.

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