Maninagar contest: Narendra Modi vs Shweta Bhatt and 11 others

Maninagar contest: Narendra Modi vs Shweta Bhatt and 11 others
Ahmedabad:  As Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi bids for an unprecedented third term in office
in Gujarat, the thought of his own electoral future seems to hardly cross his mind.

And that's not without a reason. After all, Modi is locked in an unequal fight with a political novice, the wife of a suspended IPS officer who took on the BJP strongman over the sorest point in his career--post-Godhra communal riots--in Maninagar assembly constituency here.

Congress nominee Shweta Bhatt, the Kathak dancer spouse of Sanjeev Bhatt, once said to be close to Mr Modi but fell out with him in the aftermath of the riots of 2002, is challenging Mr Modi in his pocket borough.

 Sanjeev Bhatt is fighting a legal battle against the formidable Chief Minister and he has now brought it to the electoral arena by proxy.

Though there are 12 candidates in the fray, for all practical purposes, the contest is between Mr Modi and Congress' Shweta Bhatt, after former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, a powerful leader of politically strong Patel community, decided to withdraw his nominee for the seat which is part of the rapidly expanding Ahmedabad city.

A Modi baiter, Mr Keshubhai floated his own outfit Gujarat Parivartan Party, along with another former Chief Minister

Even Muslims in the constituency with an electorate of 2.25 lakh readily concede it is "a no contest" between Mr Modi, a hardboiled politician, and Shweta Bhatt.

"In Maninagar, it is going to be a cakewalk for Modi. Nobody can defeat him," says Mohammed Mohsin Ansari, a tailor.

Sporting a flowing beard like a devout Muslim, Mr Ansari, who had education till grade seven in a regular school and not in a Madarsa, says a section of the minority community may vote for Mr Modi after he tempered his hardline Hindutva posture during his much-publicised Sadbhavna Mission.

He, however, feels that scars of 2002 carnage remain and appeared to blame Mr Modi for that.
"Three months of continuous mayhem and massacre cannot happen without state patronage," he says.

 His view of even a minuscule section of Muslim voters backing Mr Modi is, however, not shared by Salim Bhai, a milk and poultry vendor.

 "Sadbhavna Mission has made no difference to Muslims who will vote for the Congress candidate. Maybe, the Muslims will not vote with the vigour they used to as the Congress candidate is weak," says Salim Bhai.

His friend A M Malik points to Shah-e-Alam neighbourhood in Dani Limda constituency across the road to say development, even in Ahmedabad city, has not been free from bias under Mr Modi.

 "You go and see Shah-e-Alam area populated by Muslims, see the filth and penury there. Development in Gujarat is limited to a few and certainly Muslims are not among them," he says.

 Pradeep Jani, a marketing executive, however, terms Gujarat's development with Modi at helm over the last decade as "unparalleled in history".

 "Modi has made Gujarat famous through sheer hardw ork and his vision for development," he says, adding the Keshubhai factor would play no role in Maninagar where a number of public facilities like gymnasiums and swimming pools have been built and renovated by the state government.

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