The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Godhra in double ticket row

Ahmedabad, Nov. 20: The sleepless nights have begun creeping up on Gujarat poll aspirants. Godhra is threatening to cast its long shadow on the hopes of two of them.

Chief minister Narendra Modi wants to usurp bete noire Haren Pandya’s long-time constituency, Ellis Bridge. So the former revenue minister — in Modi’s bad books after he was suspected of complaining against the government after the Godhra riots — is counting his blessings.

Firebrand VHP hardliner Haresh Bhatt’s name has already been cleared from the flashpoint town. But his ill-wishers in the unit — who claim he is a “rank outsider” to Godhra — are opposing his candidacy vehemently enough to force a rethink in the high command.

Modi has turned the Ellis Bridge ticket into a prestige issue, forcing the BJP election committee to withhold the name of the candidate from this seat. Pandya’s name does not figure even in the second list sent to Delhi for approval by the party high command.

It is no secret that there is little love lost between the two. What is surprising is that Modi is single-handedly opposing Pandya and has even threatened to withdraw from the fray if he is re-nominated from Ellis Bridge.

All state and central leaders have, however, unanimously favoured Pandya’s candidature.

Asked what his plans were if he is denied a ticket, Pandya said: “Now the ball is in the court of the party high command. It will have to take a decision. I will wait and see what decision the party high command takes.’’

Pandya loyalists clustered at his residence when the news broke and left only after they were assured that the high command would take a “right decision’’. “I’m hopeful that the top leadership will not let me down. It will make a fair assessment in the interest of the party,’’ he said.

Unlike Pandya, Bhatt, an air force staffer turned VHP activist, shrugged off the issue. Although he quit as the state unit vice-president to contest the elections, he said: “I’m not bothered. Let the party decide.”

Funnily enough, the man opposing Bhatt is the same person with whom he jointly attempted to launch the VHP’s Vijay Yatra from Godhra — former MP Gopalsinh Solanki. Bhatt also claims he is Solanki’s guru.

Solanki followed up his dharna yesterday against Bhatt’s nomination with a meeting in the BJP office today at which speaker after speaker was heard demanding that a local be given the Godhra ticket.

Local RSS and VHP leaders also attended the meeting.

The local BJP unit has threatened to resign en masse if the party did not take the people’s sentiment into account. It also warned that the cadre would not allow Bhatt to set up election offices in Godhra if he is nominated against their will.

Solanki, who betrayed some signs of nervousness despite the show of being blasé, claimed that senior leaders had promised him the Godhra ticket.

He is believed to have conveyed his displeasure to leaders in Gandhinagar and Delhi.

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