The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Minister flexes muscle at booth

Ahmedabad, Dec. 12: While caretaker chief minister Narendra Modi did not react despite the names of his supporters in Maninagar being missing from the electoral rolls, Cabinet colleague Bharat Barot got provoked when he heard that people from the minority community in his constituency were voting with a vengeance.

Barot rushed to the polling booth at Dariaykhan Ghummat and threatened the presiding officer and the Congress polling agent, asking them to stop bogus voting. People from the minority community objected to the minister’s presence at Dariaykhan Ghummat, which was a relief camp for many months after the riots. Eventually, ITBP jawans at the sensitive booth had to persuade Barot to leave.

After the Godhra carnage, over 7,000 riot victims from Naroda-Patia and Gulbarg society had taken shelter at the camp, organised by Barot’s supporter, Inamul Iraki. However, the minister’s friends in the minority community left him after he asked the Ahmedabad district collector to shift the camp from his constituency as the presence of a “large number Muslims had become a security threat for the Hindus”.

A low turnout in areas in his constituency dominated by the majority community prompted Barot to “terrorise Muslim voters”. Barot, who did not visit Dariaykhan Ghummat after the riot victims took shelter there, told the presiding officer that he was a minister and would teach him a lesson after the BJP forms a government. “He even pushed me,” alleged Shaikh Mohammed, a polling agent.

“He did try to interfere, but we told him that we will not tolerate any nonsense,” said an ITBP officer stationed at the booth.

ITBP jawans were deployed at 12 of the most “sensitive locations” in the city, most of which are in riot-affected areas. This helped minority community leaders to ensure that votes were not wasted.

Mohammed Punjabi, a resident of Naroda-Patia where 86 people were killed on February 28, said transport had been arranged for those voters of Naroda-Patia who are still with their relatives or living in rented accommodation outside. About 300 such families came to vote and 50 per cent of the residents of the area had cast their votes by 1 pm.

The average voter turnout at 63 per cent was less then expected.

In Ahmedabad, including Maninagar where Modi is a candidate, the polling in the 19 constituencies was 55-60 per cent.

According to official sources, the polling in Saurashtra region, considered a stronghold of the BJP, was 58 per cent. Junagadh district, the home turf of former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, witnessed 60 per cent voting, while Rajkot saw a 58 per cent voter turnout. Kutch region, which has six constituencies, including Mandvi from where industries minister Suresh Mehta is contesting, witnessed a 55 per cent turnout.

The maximum turnout was in 1995 (64 per cent), when the BJP got 120 seats out of 182. The lowest (48 per cent) was in 1985 when the Congress romped home with a record 149 seats. Since 1985, every wining party has got more than 110 seats.

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