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Clash on old turf with new symbols

BJP’s Chauhan & congress’s CK Raul meet in Godhra again, reports Presley Thomas.

india Updated: Dec 11, 2007 23:58 IST
Presley Thomas

This is the heart of Gujarat’s communal darkness, the town where the fire of the 2002 riots was sparked, with the death of 58 karsewaks on the Sabarmati Express on February 27.

In the last assembly elections, Hindu outrage was still strong enough for the BJP to win all the seven seats in Panchmahals district of which Godhra is the headquarters. This time much has changed.

The district had hardly recovered from the aftereffects of riots when the local co-operative bank collapsed. A Rs 129-crore scam was detected at the Panchmahals District Cooperative Bank in mid-2003, leading to its closure and depriving local farmers of their primary source of loans.

The local resentment was visible during the 2004 Lok Sabha election when the BJP’s Haresh Bhatt won by a very narrow margin.

This time, Bhatt — singed by the Tehelka expose, where he was caught on camera boasting of his exploits during the riots — has been replaced by minister of state for tribal affairs Prabhatsinh Chauhan who has shifted to Godhra from the neighbouring Kalol seat, which he has won three times.

The Congress has put up CK Raul who has won the Godhra seat three times, in 1990, 1992 and 1995. But Raul did not win as a Congressman — he held a Janata Dal ticket the first time, and was the BJP candidate on the second and third occasions.

Curiously, the protagonists are the same ones who fought the 1992 by-election here, but they have switched parties! Then Raul had the BJP ticket while Chauhan was the Congress nominee. Raul had won the battle then.

But Chauhan evened the score in 2002 when the two clashed in Kalol —this time with Chauhan as the BJP’s candidate and Raul with the Congress.

A BJP officer bearer, requesting anonymity said: “Raulji is a respected figure in Godhra. He can cause problems for Chauhan.”

Chauhan has faced his share of controversies since he was the vice-president of the collapsed Panchmahals District Cooperative Bank.
There is also the matter of Chauhan’s son, Pravin, who has been accused of bootlegging.

“The tall claims made by the BJP government of development have fallen flat,” said Raul. “We continue to be deprived of basic facilities. There is also widespread corruption, and people here know it.”

Even Chauhan acknowledged that not all was well with Godhra. But the BJP candidate openly put the blame on his predecessor Bhatt, despite the fact that Bhatt belonged to his own party.

“Bhatt, did not do any good for the party or for the people,” said Chauhan. “Villages still don’t have proper roads, water and electricity. I have promised the people I will solve all the problems.”

But Chauhan refused to discuss the bootlegging charges against his son in this dry state.