Narendra Modi forced to share limelight with these two wives

Narendra Modi forced to share limelight with these two wives
Ahmedabad There are few who believe that vicissitude will kink Narendra Modi's political horoscope this month.  

Congress leaders campaign perfunctorily against Mr Modi, as Gujarat gets ready to vote. But the posters for the party feature no national or even local names or faces.

Mr Modi's return to power for a third term as chief minister is guaranteed. His real test will lie in whether he is able, armed with his victory, to convince his party that he is owed the reward of being picked as its prime ministerial candidate.

On his home turf, he shares the spotlight only with two women, both political rookies, who are fighting him on behalf of their controversial husbands.

Shweta Bhatt and Jagruti Pandya belong to parties with opposing ideologies, but their campaigns reflect a covert tactical agreement between the Congress and former BJP stalwart Keshubhai Patel. Backing him, discreetly, is a section of the right-wing VHP, working against the chief minister in some constituencies.

The confluence of these unlikely alliances is rooted in the clash for power between Mr Modi and the Sangh Parivar, where many resent his large-than-life image, and his metabolic disregard for its authority.

Shweta Bhatt, married to suspended police officer Sanjiv Bhatt, is taking on Mr Modi as the Congress candidate in the constituency of Maninagar. "This is not just my fight, this is Gujarat's battle for all those who believe in truth," she says.

In the last election, a senior Congress leader Dinsha Patel lost to Mr Modi here by over 75,000 votes.

Sanjiv Bhatt hurtled into national prominence when he filed a Supreme Court affidavit accusing Narenda Modi of complicity in the 2002 riots.  He has been dismissed by the BJP as a pawn of the Congress, whose twisted intent is to channel the state's scarred past to undermine Mr Modi. By choosing to stand as a Congress candidate, the BJP says, Mrs Bhatt has proved what it has claimed all along- that Mr Bhatt's allegations are a political conspiracy against the chief minister.

Mrs Bhatt says that the Congress offers her the infrastructure she needs to take on a political giant.  "My husband is fighting him as a police officer. My fight is that of an individual...of a wife...this is my personal fight," she says.  Her modest door-to -door campaign in an open-air Tata Sierra jeep, her bindi gleaming under the fierce morning sun, is as far as one can get from Mr Modi's high-octane rallies and his 3-D speeches, offering him up to simultaneous audiences at 53 different locations.

jagruti_with_caption_295.jpgA few kilometres away, another home-maker is walking through the residential by-lanes of Ahmedabad's Ellisbridge constituency. A shiny yellow scarf draped around her sari announces her allegiance to Keshubhai Patel's new Gujarat Parivartan Party. Jagruity Pandya grabs a microphone to address the crowd, including an old woman staring down at her from a balcony.

She wants a re-investigation into the assassination in 2003 of her husband, a bitter political rival of Mr Modi. As the state's Home Minister in 2002, Haren Pandya's role during the riots was fiercely debated, but his family rejects the explanation that he was killed on a morning walk in retaliation for the riots.

Mrs Pandya is very much at home in the ideology of the right-wing BJP-RSS Sangh Parivar.  In fact, many of the people accompanying her in her campaign are members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the BJP's parent body, the RSS.   

The extensive list of grievances against Mr Modi has allowed for this support of Mrs Pandya, a candidate from an opposing party. She says the memory of her dead husband evokes loyalty.  A worker from the VHP says the orders to help her have come "from the very top."

In October, the RSS held a meeting with Mr Patel, who has often accused the chief minister of flagrant intolerance for dissent. Mr Modi's predilection for positioning himself as a leader of unquestionable national stature has often irked the RSS. Mr Modi's party, the BJP, is accustomed to finding itself at cross-purposes with its parent.

Here, it believes, Mr Patel has drawn upon the secret support of the RSS, and separately engineered a deal with the Congress. In Shweta Bhatt's election, Mr Patel accepted an appeal by Shweta Bhatt to drop his candidate against her. In his own constituency, the Congress has not fielded a candidate.
Story First Published: December 10, 2012 17:15 IST

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