Modi has a point to prove in Maninagar

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Maninagar, Dec 13: It will be a battle royale in the Maninagar constituency as BJP poster-boy Narendra Modi takes on Congress veteran Dinsha Patel, to prove his point that he is the ''undisputed'' leader of Gujarat.

The over 3.26 lakh electorate will choose their leader from among the ten candidates in the December 16 election. Popularly known as ''Chhote Sardar'', Modi's larger than life image almost had made the contest for this seat a purely one-sided affair, until the Congress decided to field against him its best bet Dinsha Patel, a Union Minister with an impeccable track record and clean image.

But despite support of the Patel community which forms a sizeable chunk of the electorate here and Muslims, Patel may find the going tough against the towering personality of Modi, who has almost acquired an 'iconic' status and signifies 'Gujarati pride', say political observers.

The BJP feels that the ''unprecedented'' development that Gujarat has achieved in the past five years has made Modi's re-election a certainty.

Since 1990, Maninagar has been a BJP stronghold, from where the Chief Minister had chosen to contest the 2002 Assembly elections. He won this seat by a whopping 75,333 votes defeating Congress opponent Yatin Oza, a former BJP MLA. Kamlesh Patel who had held this seat thrice before he handed it to Modi, is his campaign manager now.

Though Modi has not found time himself to campaign in his own constituency as he has been busy electioneering in Saurashtra and South Gujarat for the first phase, Patel's focus is totally on Maninagar. He has stationed himself in the constituency for weeks, and carries out door-to-door campaigns and 'padyatras' (footmarches).

He is also keeping a low profile. His campaigning has been simple--no calling names, no rhetoric and no public rallies too. ''I came here as my party reposed faith in me to counter Modi. It is not going to be an easy contest, but we do our best.'' A local Congress leader said, ''The fight in Maninagar is a fight between Gandhian values and a dictator. Patel may not match his opponent, who indulges in false propaganda, but will ensure that it will not be a cakewalk for him.'' However, no top leaders--neither of the BJP nor of the Congress-- have so far campaigned for their respective candidates in Maninagar constituency.

The mood of the Congress workers got a boost after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed a rally in Ahmedabad yesterday.

BJP supporters are however confident that Modi will emerge winner with an handsome margin. ''Dinsha or no Dinsha, Modi will win hands down.'' To charges that Modi never visited his constituency, they insist that he has visited four to five times every year to meet the voters.

After Patel's entry into the arena, the BJP has roped in a number of Patel community leaders to Maninagar to help in Modi's campaign. They also feel that the ''outsider'' tag will hurt Congress chances more. But Modi himself has contested the polls only once from this constituency, having moved here from Rajkot II, where he had fought a by-election in 2001.

This is only the third electoral test for Modi while five-time MLA Dinsha has weathered 12 elections (though all in Kheda), losing just once at the last Assembly hustings, which were held in the aftermath of the post-Godhra communal flare-up.

Apart from the political parties, a campaign is on against Mr Modi in Maninagar by a large number of women social activists including dance exponents Mrinalini and Mallika Sarabhai, social activists Kalpana Shah, Ila Pathak and Sarup Dhruv. They alleged that the state was no more a safe place for women and children and crime rate has increased alarmingly in Ahmedabad, once considered the safest city of the country.

BJP's Kamlesh Patel says such propaganda will not have any impact on Modi's chances.

Though local issues here have been pushed to the background and 'Moditva' has become the mainstay of the campaign, several people of the constituency say they face problems of drinking water and proper housing and during monsoons, drainage and sanitation are the major issues in its five wards -- Maninagar, Khokhra, Bhaipura, Bag-e-Firdaus and Amraiwadi.

Apart from Modi and Patel, BSP's Renu Kavatra, Amit Kumar Patanvadiya (CPI-ML), Pravin Mishra (New Socialist Movement Party) and five others including an Independent are in the fray.

The last time the Congress won the Assembly seat from Maninagar, was in 1985, when the then party candidate, Ramlal Ruplal, procured 46.40 per cent votes from the constituency.

For Modi, this election is a make or break proposition. Not only, he has had Congress as his opponent but a part of the party has been up against him for his ''autocratic'' style of functioning.

The outcome of the polls will have an impact on the national politics too.

UNI

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