Gujarat polls: Electioneering draws to a close

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Ahmedabad, Dec 14: Campaigning for the second and final phase of Gujarat Assembly elections, which saw political leaders indulging in high drama and mudslinging, will draw to a close this evening.

Polling for remaining 95 constituencies of Central and North Gujarat will be held on December 16.

The BJP seems to be on a strong footing in these two regions, having won 73 of the 95 seats at the last hustings. Incidentally, these areas had been also the most affected during the 2002 communal violence.

As the outcome of these elections was bound to have national implications, the arch rivals BJP and the Congress were caught in a frenzy--all geared up to put in their best for the final clash.

If UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi's 'maut ke saudagar' remark and the Chief Minister's alleged justification of the Sohrabuddin issue dominated the first phase electioneering, in the second phase an unfazed Narendra Modi has continued to use the Hindutva card, accusing the Centre of being soft on terrorism.

The Congress leaders have retorted by calling him a liar.

Despite the contempt notice slapped on him by the Supreme Court and a show-cause notice by the Election Commission, Mr Modi urged Central leaders to glorify Sohrabuddin by putting a 'chaddar' on his grave.

He also raised cudgels against the Centre for delaying the execution of Afzal Guru, convicted in the Parliament attack case.

''This is part of its minority appeasement policy,'' he said.

Apart from zeroing on his favourite target 'Soniaben', Mr Modi this time also traded guns at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for his remark that Gujarat riot cases would be re-opened. Appealing to 'Gujarati pride', he said Gujarat was not going to buckle under such threats and challenged him to arrest him ''if he has the guts to do so''. He also asked the Prime Minister to first ''file FIR in 1984 Sikh riots cases''.

In a mocking way, he reminded the people at a rally here, that he was ''our Prime Minister''. ''Everbody knows Sonia Gandhi but we all must remember that Dr Singh is our Prime Minister,'' he said, regaling the people with such taunts.

The Congress, on its part, has continued to rip apart claims of achievements by the Modi government and termed the law and order situation in the state a matter of worry. It also played the tribal card, alleging that the tribals had not recieved any land rights under the Van Bandhu Kalyan yojana.

To Mr Modi's alleged justification of Sohrabuddin killing, his bete noire Shankersinh Vaghela counter questioned him about the killing of Tulsiram Prajapati, who was also killed in the encounter.

''Why does he not tell the people the truth that they also killed a Hindu?'' said Mr Vaghela at a Vadodara rally.

That the Gujarat polls are being considered relevant for national political equations, can be guaged from the fact that the Congress chief made four visits to the state and the Prime Minister two. AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi too chipped in with road shows--one being held today in Vadodara.

Another Gandhi mother-son duo--Maneka and Varun--too came down to Gujarat for campaigning, albeit for the rival party. They toured Vadodara, to seek votes in favour of the BJP candidates.

Among other star campaigners were Union Ministers Arjun Singh, Kapil Sibal, Sushilkumar Shinde, Renuka Chaudhury, Shankersinh Vaghela and senior leaders Margaret Alva and Digvijay Singh and Maharastra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Finance Minister P Chidambaram also was to come later today.

The BJP said 58 Central leaders visited Gujarat for the electioneering including L K Advani, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh, V K Malhotra, Chief Ministers Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Arun Jaitly has been camping here for managing the campaign.

It has organised over 600 public meetings, of which Mr Modi alone had addressed 170 in 155 out of the 182 Assembly constituencies.

Veteran BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee has stayed away from Gujarat electioneering, probably due to ill health, but the Congress camp feels that there could be something more to it than what meets the eye.

NCP president and Union Minister Sharad Pawar is also expected to canvass for his party later today.

Apart from the meetings, the parties are also canvassing in colleges and universities to woo first-time voters.

The rivalry of the two main parties also reflected in the advertisements they issued in the local dailies. On the sixth anniversary of the terror attack on Parliament, the BJP brought out an advertisement on the failure of the Central government to hang Afzal.

In its retort, the Congress in its ads recalled the ''black day'' when External Minister Jaswant Singh escorted Masood Azhar to Afghanistan, and when BJP leader L K Advani bowed before Jinnah's mausoleum, and recounted that major security lapses like the Akshardham attack near the CM's residence, Kargil, attack on Parliament, Red Fort had all occurred when the BJP was in power.

It also pointed out that the CM has lowered his own dignity by making false claims about development, and claimed there was an atmosphere of fear in the state, and cited scores of cases of farmers' suicide and alleged that it had cheated poor tribals.

Apart from Mr Modi, against whom the Congress has put up Union Minister Dinsha Patel as their candidate, key contestants in the fray are Mr Narhari Amin (Matar), state Health Minister Ashok Bhatt from Khadiya, Revenu Minister Kaushikbhai Patel from Shahpur Minister of Home for state Amit Shah is contesting from Sarkhej, Education Minister Anandiben Patel from Patan, late Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel's son and Congress leader Sidhdharth Patel is Dabhoi and Gujarati film superstar Naresh Kanodiya, BJP from Karjan.

A report from Vadodara said the ruling BJP holds an edge over its arch rival Congress as campaigning comes to an end today in 13 Assembly constituencies of Vadodara district going to polls in the second and final phase on sunday. BJP, which made a clean sweep in the 2002 Assembly elections winning all the 13 seats following a strong Hindutva wave, however, finds the going tough in five eastern Vadodara constituencies -- Dabhoi, Chhotaudepur, Jetpur, Nasvadi and Sankheda -- mostly dominated by backward classes and Adivasis.

On the last day of campaigning, while new AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi took out a five-hour road show in the city, Chief Minister Modi addressed three election rallies in Padra, Karjan and Dabhoi, where the Congress President addressed people yesterday.

Senior Congress leaders feel that Ms Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's campaigning in Vadodara during the last three days has virtually changed the election scenario in this BJP stronghold.

Their campaign has certainly bolstered the party workers and organisation, they said, while admitting that the BJP had clear edge over them in all three urban seats of Raopura, Wadi and Sayajiganj in the city.

Although BJSP General Secretary Nalin Bhatt and NCP leader Ashok Pawar are fighting from Sayajiganj and Raopura seats, the contest will be an straight contest between the BJP and the Congress in all the 13 seats. There are 86 candidates in the fray.

A total of 27,20,413 electorate, including 13,23,721 women, are expected to exercise their franchise in 2,884 polling booths.

Police sources said barring some stray incidents of violence in Pavi-Jetpur, the campaigning had ended peacefully across the district.

The authorities have made elaborate security arrangements by deploying 89 companies of central paramilitary forces to maintain law and order during the elections.

UNI

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