The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shooting star, eclipsed by Modi

A sturdy man with a walrus moustache, Haren Pandya’s booming voice will never be heard again.

Always dressed in trendy kurtas, the dapper politician’s hour of glory preceded the Gujarat riots and came to an abrupt end just as the sounds of communal fury were ebbing away.

Those who knew the former Gujarat home minister say Pandya’s greatest strength was his ambition. His rise was swift, too. From a student leader he became an MLA in 1993, a minister of state for border security in 1995 and then home minister in 1998.

He was also credited with the knack of being in the right place at the right time. But that was till Narendra Modi came along.

Even with his politician’s brain and mechanical engineer’s mind, he could not foresee the chief minister’s move. In one swoop, Modi reduced Pandya — often spoken of as a future chief minister — to a politician with an uncertain future, without a constituency and petitions for an Assembly ticket dismissed with the disdain reserved for has-beens.

When he fell out with Modi, Pandya was hardly a has-been. He was an MLA who had convincingly won his seat from the Ellisbridge constituency and become a home minister who was perceived as a “doer”. Then there was his alleged “pro-active” role in the post-Godhra riots.

Pandya is believed to have rallied around some “protesters” just after the riots. His background as an RSS man, many said, could have provided the fuel to fire his rage. There was even an FIR filed against him, charging him with leading a group of rioters.

The charges have remained just that and the student leader had everything going for him. He may have fallen out with Modi but had his supporters, both in the cadre and among party functionaries. This emboldened him to revolt against Modi’s “personality cult”. But the move backfired.

Modi started treating him as if he did not exist. Pandya was punished for publicly airing his views against the chief minister and denied a ticket in the Assembly elections last December. Pandya had even appeared before a tribunal probing the riots, much to the chagrin of Modi, who, by now, had had enough.

All entreaties for a ticket fell on deaf ears as Modi wanted to send the message that he was the boss and nobody takes on the boss.

With Pandya now dead, fingers have begun pointing at the ‘boss’. Leader of the Opposition Amarsinh Chaudhary went to the extent of saying the murder was a fallout of inner-party rivalry. In a hard-hitting statement, the Congress said it is the beginning of the cult of political vendetta in Gujarat. And no prizes for guessing who Chaudhary thinks is the cult leader. There are also conjectures that it could be a revenge killing, while another theory suggests that a business deal had gone wrong.

But all these are now just conjectures. What is not is that the BJP has lost a politician who was young — Pandya was 43 — and dynamic.

There was no way he could know that death, too, like success, would come swiftly for him.

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