Narendra Modi not much worried about 'easy' Maninagar battle

Ahmedabad, Dec 12: As Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi bids for an unprecedented third term in office in Gujarat, the thought of his own electoral future seems to hardly cross his mind. And that's not without a reason. After all, Modi is locked in an unequal fight with a political novice, the wife of a suspended IPS officer who took on the BJP strongman over the most sore point in his career, the post-Godhra communal riots, in Maninagar assembly constituency here.

Congress nominee Shweta Bhatt, the Kathak dancer spouse of Sanjeev Bhatt, once said to be close to Modi but fell out with him in the aftermath of the riots of 2002, is challenging Modi in his pocket borough.

Narendra Modi

Sanjeev Bhatt is fighting a legal battle against the formidable Chief Minister and he has now brought it to the electoral arena by proxy. Though there are 12 candidates in the fray, for all practical purposes, the contest is between Modi and Congress' Bhatt, after former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, a powerful leader of politically strong Patel community, decided to withdraw his nominee for the seat which is part of the rapidly expanding Ahmedabad city.

A Modi baiter, Keshubhai floated his own outfit Gujarat Parivartan Party along with another former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta and ex-Union Minister Kashiram Rana a couple of months ago to undercut his successor who largely contributed to his marginalisation in state politics. Rana has since died, giving a jolt to the fledgling party.

Even Muslims in the constituency with an electorate of 2.25 lakh readily concede it is "a no contest" between Modi, a hardboiled politician, and Shweta Bhatt. "In Maninagar, it is going to be a cakewalk for Modi. Nobody can defeat him," says Mohammed Mohsin Ansari, a tailor at the constituency, where Modi won twice by impressive margins--75,333 votes in 2002 and 87,161 votes in 2007--would largely remain the same this time too.

Congress, according to him, could have fared a little better had it fielded an experienced candidate. He, however, hastened to add that the BJP stalwart had trounced Dinsha Patel, currently an Union Minister, in the last poll.

Naresh Parmar, a caterer, said, "Modi must be rewarded for the good work he has done. He should become even the Prime Minister if merit is a criteria for becoming one." "There are no communal riots, crime has come down and Modi has improved facilities in towns and cities as also villages," he says. So confident seems Modi about a landslide win in the constituency that he has not cared to pay a visit even once after filing his nomination.

Baldev Desai, a former Congress corporator in Maninagar, who coordinates Shweta Bhatt's election campaign, however, is confident of her victory largely because he believes that Brahmins, a caste to which she belongs, would overwhelmingly vote for her.

With nearly 60,000 votes, Brahmins are the largest voting bloc in the constituency and have traditionally backed BJP. Close watchers of the poll, however, feel Brahmins would, by and large, vote for Modi this time too. Desai said Christians, accounting for 14 per cent of the electorate, a section of Patels and OBC too would vote for Bhatt.

(See info on Guj polls)


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