All is still quiet in Maninagar which will vote in the second phase of the election on December 16. It hardly looks the constituency from which the most talked about candidate is contesting.
This may well be because aggressive campaigning is not required here; Narendra Modi’s campaign team is sure he will win in any case. The “unprecedented development work” he has done in the past five years, as one member said, has made his re election a certainty.
Besides, this is a BJP bastion. When he first entered the Assembly in 2001 in a by-election to take over as chief minister, Modi contested from Rajkot. But he chose Maninagar over Rajkot in the 2002 elections, as it was even safer. The BJP has won this urban middle-class, Hindu dominated constituency four times in succession, since 1990, when the party first became a force in the state.
Kamlesh Patel represented Maninagar three times before making way for Modi in the last elections. He is now Modi’s campaign manager. “Narendrabhai will go to the Assembly with a higher margin this time than in 2002.”
Even so, the BJP was caught unawares by the
Congress move to field a heavyweight like Union MoS for Petroleum, Dinsha Patel, against Modi. It has since deputed a large number of Patel community leaders to Maninagar to help Modi’s campaign and draw in the Patel vote.
Maninagar has around 3 lakh voters, of whom 65,000-odd are Patels. Realising that the Congress is after the Patel vote — Patels across the state are said to be annoyed with Modi for marginalising Keshubhai Patel and other sins of omission and commission — the BJP is attacking Dinsha Patel as an outsider.
“Narendrabhai has to win the state for us. We will gift him Maninagar in return,” says local BJP leader Parag Naik. He was openly contemptuous of Modi’s opponent. “Dinsha contested and lost the last election even from his native Kheda district,” he recalls. “Here, he is an outsider and will fare worse. It is possible some Congressmen sent him here to contest because they want to see him defeated and finish him politically.”
Dinsha Patel’s campaign has so far been low-key. He is focusing on padyatras and ‘direct contact’ with voters, rather than holding meetings. “It is not a fight between Modi and Patel,” says Madhusudhan Mistry, Congress MP. “It is a fight to free Gujarat from dictatorship. The people are with us.”
Most voters are reluctant to reveal their minds. “There is still a week left. We will decide by then. Votes should be for the better candidate,” says one.