Deeply divided Godhra braces for poll

Posted By: Pti
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Godhra, Dec 14: A decade after Godhra provided the spark that ignited almost the whole of Gujarat into a communal cauldron, this relatively underdeveloped constituency in the prosperous state remains deeply divided along religious lines.

Going to poll in the second phase on December 17, the Muslims, who have a large presence among the 2.13 lakh electorate, are still not ready to forget and forgive the 2002 communal carnage, notwithstanding Chief Minister Narendra Modi's much publicised "Sadbhavna Mission" and numerous other overtures to woo them.

Amid the seemingly unbridgeable chasm, voters of this constituency, nearly 150 km from capital Gandhinagar, will decide the fate of eight candidates, including sitting Congress MLA C K Raulji who has thrice won the seat in 1990, 1995 and 2007, contesting as Janata Dal, BJP and Congress nominee respectively.

He is locked in a triangular fight with BJP's Praveensinh Chauhan, son of sitting MP from Panchmahal, Prabhatsinh Chauhan. Praveensinh is a political novice and is contesting an election for the first time.

Also in the fray is Girwatsinh Solanki of Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), a BJP breakaway faction headed by former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel.

Though poll watchers are not giving independent candidate Rameshbhai Patel much of a chance, the realtor from Surat, a moneybag, is also in the fray, banking on the politically influential Patel votes.

The Muslims, with nearly 45,000 votes, have been exercising their franchise, almost en bloc, for Congress since 1962 when the first assembly polls were held after bifurcation of Bombay Presidency into Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Congress candidates have won the seat in five of the 11 assembly elections held in the state. However, Muslim candidates have bagged the seat only four times with Abdulrahim Ismail Khalpa alone winning in 1975, 1980 and 1985.

Four Muslims had filed their papers as independent candidates this time too but all of them withdrew at the last moment.

"Godhra is a prestige issue for Narendra Modi. So, he fielded Muslim candidates to divide Congress votes but Congress made sure they backed off," says Firdausbhai Kothi, president of the Muslim Ganchi Samaj Panch and owner of Kothi Steel Limited.

Kothi had sheltered hundreds of Muslims when Gujarat burned in communal strife for months in 2002.

"Muslims can make or mar the electoral fate of a candidate in Godhra but this time they stand divided. There can be a three-way split in the votes with Congress, Independent Rameshbhai and, to some extent BJP, being the beneficiaries", he said.

Asked why some Muslims would vote for BJP as the chasm remained as wide as ever, he says "they (Muslims) have forgotten the families of those convicted and sentenced to death for Sabarmati Express fire tragedy. Jamat-e-Islamia collects donations to sustain their families. Money plays a big role in elections these days."


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