Pehle matdaan, phir jalpaan, Narendra Modi told his supporters during his campaign. But on election day, it was those who want him ousted who took his advice.
In Godhra, Muslims queued up to vote as early as 6.30 a.m., one-and-a-half hours before polling began. By 10 a.m., the Polan Bazar, Sadpul Colony and Iqbal School booths in Godhra had already touched turnouts of nearly 35 percent. By the end of the day, polling touched 90 per cent in Godhra’s minority-dominated areas. The overall figures were under 65 per cent.
Godhra’s 40,000 Muslims did their best to cast their vote, as did Muslims all over the state.
In Ahmedabad's Naroda-Patiya area, where 83 people were butchered in a single day during the riots, voters travelled from other states to exercise their franchise. The Election Commission organised special vehicles for displaced persons who have not been rehabilitated.
The high Muslim turnout clearly angered BJP workers. In Godhra, they abused and heckled reporters, accusing them of being pro-Muslim.
Diplomats weren’t spared either. At the Unnati High School booth, a clutch of BJP workers surrounded British diplomat Peter Holland's car without provocation. "Go and visit Muslim areas," they yelled, pounding his vehicle.
A chorus of Jai Shri Ram went up as the car sped away.
The BJP candidate, former Bajrang Dal chief Haresh Bhatt, said, however: "I will go to all areas, including Muslim areas. All this talk of Hindu-Muslim polarisation is untrue." And then added: "The Hindus will vote for the BJP and the Muslims for the Congress."
On paper, Bhatt seemed to be comfortably placed since Muslim voters account for only 22 per cent of the Godhra electorate. But their high turnout means Bhatt will win only if he can get the support of the Patel community, and that, he admits he’s not sure of.