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Central Gujarat holds key to Gujarat victory

The main battleground in Gujarat's upcoming assembly elections will be the state's central region where the ruling BJP swept 42 of the 49 seats five years ago.

india Updated: Oct 28, 2007 11:18 IST

The main battleground in Gujarat's upcoming assembly elections will be the state's central region where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept 42 of the 49 seats five years ago.

This is an area where the BJP wiped out the Congress in 2002. While the Congress is aiming for a major comeback in the area, the BJP is making an all-out effort to retain a majority of the seats it won.

The Congress is upbeat in the region, comprising the districts of Anand, Kheda, Bharuch, Panchmahals, Dahod, Narmada and Vadodara.

With a sizeable tribal population and pockets dominated by Muslims, this had been a traditional Congress stronghold.

But after the train burning of 2002 at Godhra and the communal frenzy that followed, the BJP captured the vast area.

Central Gujarat had witnessed maximum violence in 2002, accounting for a large percentage of the over 1,000 killed in the state.

Congress leaders say that with communal tensions ebbing away, their party is setting the agenda in the belt.

The party plans to woo the electorate with central government schemes introduced for the tribal people and the other economically backward groups.

The BJP is trying to hard sell the Van Bandhu Yojana started by Chief Minister Narendra Modi under which the state government has promised to spend large sums of money on tribal development over the next five years.

Congress spokesperson Jayantilal Parmar told IANS: "One of our biggest poll planks will be the decision of the central government to bring about the Forest Land Reforms Act under which tribals will be able to enjoy their traditional rights of tilling on forest lands and also to own the produce."

The BJP is claiming that it has done unparalleled development work in the last five years in the tribal belt.

"The tribals have understood that the Congress has only made empty promises to them since India's independence. The BJP has fulfilled the promises it made. The tribals are very happy, be it about providing a road network or electricity to remote areas," said NV Patel, a BJP leader from central Gujarat.

Patel added: "The steps taken for water conservation like establishing of boribunds (check dams) and the emphasis on education for the girl child has sent the signal that the BJP aims at inclusive development."

The electoral tussle for the seats in the tribal belt started in January this year with a huge rally addressed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Devgadh Baria.

Prior to the rally, the party held an exercise to enrol and train 5,000 tribal Congress workers in the election campaign.

The success of Gandhi's rally led to Modi's Van Bandhu programme.

Political observers feel that the Congress had seen way back in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections that it had a chance to retain the central Gujarat belt and had hence given due representation to leaders from the area.

Both ministers from the party in the central government, Narain Rathwa and Shankersinh Vaghela, represent constituencies of central Gujarat. Even the state Congress president is from the same region.

They also point out that Modi did not give substantial representation to those elected from the tribal areas in his ministry.

While the BJP is aiming to win the support of the farmers by claiming it had provided them with 24-hour power supply, the Congress says that power supply in the tribal areas does not exceed six hours a day.

BJP spokesperson Yamal Vyas asserted: "We have spent maximum amount on the development of the poor in these areas. We do not believe in providing them with cash doles but we intend to make them economically self-reliant. We have introduced various income generation schemes in the belt."

Central Gujarat is expected to witness an aggressive campaign from both the parties. And the region is expected to hold the key to who rules the state since the BJP may find it difficult to come up with its earlier showing.

First Published: Oct 28, 2007 11:13 IST