The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ahmedabad safe home for Rajkot runaway

Ahmedabad/New Delhi, Nov. 19: Narendra Modi’s search for a safe constituency has ended in a sort of homecoming for the Gujarat chief minister who will contest the December 12 Assembly polls from Maninagar in Ahmedabad.

This is the area where Modi used to live — in the state RSS headquarters, Dr Hedgewar Bhavan, on Baliakaka Road — in the early days of his political career. Until a few years ago, he was a voter from this largely Hindu, middle-class locality of south Ahmedabad. It also has a substantial chunk of Sindhis, known for their BJP leaning, and Muslims have an inconsequential presence.

No one remembers the last time the Congress won from here — the area is home to the oldest RSS shakha. Kamlesh Patel, a three-term MLA from Maninagar, won by 30,000 votes in the last Assembly elections.

No seat would have been safer: that is Modi’s biggest strength. And the Congress says it’s also his biggest weakness.

“How can a man who is not loyal to his constituency be loyal to the entire state'” That is what the Congress is going to tell the people of Gujarat, a senior leader said. Shaktisingh Gohil claims to have predicted long ago that Modi will not contest from Rajkot II in Saurashtra, from where he won after replacing Keshubahi Patel as chief minister.

That election took place as late as last February and Modi, fighting his first contest, told his constituents — as is the wont of nearly all politicians — that he would never desert them.

At campaign meetings, the Congress will say: “Modi has lost the trust of Saurashtra.”

Had he stayed in Saurashtra Modi would have run too many risks. This region, and Rajkot in particular, was mostly peaceful when north and central Gujarat were being painted in riot blood. It is also the stronghold of Modi’s party rival Keshubhai, whose name does not figure on the list of 144 candidates released by the BJP today.

Vajubhai Valla, a former minister who was forced to vacate Rajkot II for Modi, has got back his seat. Sources said last time Valla made his unhappiness plain by not going all out to help and as a result Modi won by a not-too-respectable margin of about 12,000. This time who knows what might have happened: Valla, a Keshubhai loyalist, had apparently threatened to work openly against Modi.

Former minister Haren Pandya, who was compelled to resign after allegedly working against Modi, is not among the candidates nor has anyone been named from his Ellis Bridge constituency in Ahmedabad.

Modi was keen on Ellis Bridge, but Pandya, who has held on to this prestigious seat for several elections, was not willing to give up. BJP sources said efforts are afoot to persuade Pandya because Modi wishes to fight from a second city constituency.

Sources said Modi was not able to have his way entirely with candidates. The central leadership apparently ensured that Keshubhai’s nominees were also accommodated. As many as 82 sitting members have been renominated and only 12 dropped.

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