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L K Advani faces tough battle in Gandhinagar

April 30, 2009 17:36 IST

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Shankersinh Vaghela had vacated his Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat for L K Advani in 1991. This time Vaghela campaigned against him with the harshest words. What a radical change in the political atmosphere! Is Advani on slippery ground in Gandhinagar?

The pro-Congress view

One of the close aides of Congress candidate Suresh Patel said Kadva Patels are active for Sureshbhai. Such a visible support was not felt even when Mumbai-based Amrut Patel trounced the celebrity P G Mavalankar in 1977.
Chief Minister Narendra Modi may win other seats in Gujarat but may lose the crucial Gandhinagar seat. Campaigners in lower-middle class housing societies like Naranpura-Ghatlodia /Sola, in Patel's offices in Usmanpura and Ranip, and the 250-odd non-resident Gujaratis (including some 40 members of his family settled in the United States) have been specially canvassing for him. The NRGs' campaign counts as they have contributed significantly to the development of their villages.
Advani has two strong points in Gandhinagar. Firstly, he can be touted as the 'PM from Gandhinagar'. Second is the work and charisma of his trump card Modi.

But will charisma answer questions about what Advani has done for his constituency inspite of representing it in Parliament four times?

"How many times has he visited us? Sureshbhai is close to us, he is next door," said some voters. Patel, who lives in Paliad, regularly meets the people of his constituency. His family, including his wife, lives in the United States. He has also worked in the area for over 25-30 years. The fight between him and Advani might become a 'local vs outsider' tussle.
The controversy surrounding the Asharam Bapu ashram is also going to affect the BJP. Many locals feel that the Gujarat government did not take any positive steps to soothe the ruffled feelings in the affair.
Farmers, affiliated to the BJP's front Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, are vocal about their problems like lack of sufficient power supply to their fields and scarcity of water in north Gujarat.

The over-confidence -- that Modiji will take care of the BJP's serious drawbacks -- may cost Advani dearly.

The pro-BJP view

In this delimited constituency, Patels comprise only 15 per cent of the voters. In spite of their clout, they would not affect Advani's chances much. The rest of the constituency is made up of 7 per cent Muslims, Other Backward Classes (30 per cent), Dalits (13 per cent), upper castes (25 per cent) and others (10 per cent).

BJP supporters also point out that Gandhinagar has acquired international standards with its knowledge corridor, the Ambani Institute and as India's first solar city.
Modi had been taking a seismographic note of tectonic shifts at ground level. His campaign soon took damage control measures. Advani, with his family held a three-hour road at Ranip and got a rousing reception from large crowds.

He also moved into another Patel strong of Kalol that returned Patel twice in spite Modi wave in 2002/2007. The Congress tried hard to flaunt parents of the two kids who were murdered near Asharam Bapu's Ashram, when Shankersinh held his public meeting on April 26. But BJP ensured that they were not present at Shankersinh's meeting -- much to the dismay of the Congress.
Modi believes that this green capital of Gujarat, with its annual household income of Rs. 188,515 and increasing health care and educational facilities in its rural areas like Rupal and Chandkheda, will stand him in good stead, even when delimitation has deprived BJP of its traditional bastions like Ellis Bridge.Will national factors and the issue of development overshadow the local and caste factors?
It may be a case of a wafer-thin majority for either side. Modi's public meeting at Sola, which can accommodate thousands of people, was marked by scanty attendance. The meeting had to be postponed till 9.30 pm, when a decent number of people turned up.

The previous day, a large crowd turned up for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting at 2 pm. Most of the audience was bhaduti -- they had been brought to the rally by rented luxury vehicles.

Voter apathy is visible for both the contending parties. But significantly, one misses the conventional Modi touch -- an upsurge in the response of his audiences that was the trademark of this engaging speaker. Electoral fatigue has set in here.

Pravin Seth in Gandhinagar