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Saving grace for BJP from Gujarat

india Updated: May 17, 2009 03:35 IST
Yogesh Joshi
Yogesh Joshi
Hindustan Times
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With bad news pouring in for it from across the country, there was a consolation prize coming in from Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party marginally improved its tally.

The party won 15 seats out of 26 in a state of 55 million people where two it had two leaders billed as prime ministers-in-waiting, Lal Krishna Advani and Chief Minister Narendra Modi. That is one more seat than in the 2004 elections.

In Gandhinagar, the state’s largest city, Advani defeated the Congress party’s Suresh Patel by 1.4 lakh votes.

The Congress did better than many expected in a state where Modi is the biggest selling political brand, and where the party was decimated by Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2007 state elections.

“I am satisfied with the results even as I thought that party would get two more seats”, said Gujarat Congress Committee Chief Sidhharth Patel.

In a state deeply polarized on religious lines, there was something missing from the Congress party’s campaign in Gujarat: Attacks on Modi over the 2002 religious rioting in which some 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, are believed to have been killed, even as the state government allegedly looked the other way.

Former Gujarat government minister Maya Kodnani is under arrest and being investigated for her alleged role in the riots.

But raising issues related to Gujarat’s 50 lakh Muslims does not get votes in a state where religious faultlines run deep – and Modi is seen to have used political rhetoric to gain frequently from attacks over the 2002 riots.

The Congress party kept the issue aside this time.

Two of its central ministers – Shankarsinh Vaghela and Naran Rathwa, however, lost.

Vaghela lost by one of the closest margins in the election, losing to BJP’s Prabhatsinh Chouhan by just over 2,000 votes in Panchmahal, a constituency that includes Godhra, the town where the burning of a train carrying Hindu activists triggered the 2002 riots.

On its part, the BJP bucked the wrath of some leaders of the economically and politically powerful Patel community. They had asked people to vote against the BJP, saying it had sidelined the community.