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Former RSS man is Congress' choice from Godhra

By Parag Dave in Ahmedabad
Last updated on: April 24, 2009 15:48 IST
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Not even ugly communal riots could break the Bharatiya Janata Party's dominance in Godhra. So the Congress has fielded a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader to loosen the saffron party's hold on this part of the country.

The Lok Sabha constituency of Godhra, which was the epicentre of the 2002 communal riots, has been renamed Panchmahals post-delimitation. Union Textile Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela, who headed the government in Gujarat between 1996-97, is the Congress candidate from this constituency after the Kapadwanj seat he represented was erased in the redrawing of the electoral map.

Vaghela is up against BJP's Prabhatsinh Chauhan, who had lost the state assembly elections from Godhra. Prabhatsinh was brought in after the BJP denied re-nomination to sitting Member of Parliament Bhupendrasinh Chauhan.

The Congress candidate, however, appears presumptuous and overconfident, as he says, "People here (in Godhra) have forgotten everything (about the riots)... I have full confidence that Congress will win from the seat."

Over 1,000 people were killed in Gujarat in communal riots that broke out after a coach of the Sabarmati Express carrying Hindu activists was torched. Votes have since split on communal lines. Vaghela, however, said all that people want was to "live in peace."

Shankarsinh, a five time MP and a product of RSS, told PTI, "Seven years have passed since the incident (riots) and there is nothing that will help the BJP polarise the scene in Godhra this time."

Shankarsinh had won Godhra Lok Sabha seat in 1991 on BJP ticket while he had lost the LS election 1996 on that party's ticket. After losing the elections in 1996, which he thought was due to the interference of Narendra Modi, Vaghela split the BJP and formed the Janta Party and became the chief minister of Gujarat. He later joined the Congress.

"The work done by the Congress and me as Union textile minister will give me victory for the sixth time," Vaghela said. "Cotton farmers of the country and Gujarat are very happy as we have given highest minimum support price (MSP) to them. Textile ministry has done so much for the industry to grow in Gujarat," Vaghela said.

His rival and BJP candidate Prabhatsinh Chauhan said, "I am poised to upset the Congress stalwart. The main reason is I am a local candidate and he is an outsider."

"The development works carried out by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat will make me win. The effect of 2002 riots is still here and will be visible in the coming elections also," asserted Chauhan.

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Parag Dave in Ahmedabad
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