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Updated: November 6, 2012 03:01 IST

Modi’s bête noire, Keshubhai, projects himself as the alternative

Darshan Desai
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Former Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel.
PTI Former Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel.

Former Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, a political rival of current Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, on Monday pitched himself as the answer to the “iron man” of Gujarat, formally announcing that he would contest the December assembly elections. The announcement comes less than a week after he addressed a big rally in Ahmedabad, Mr. Modi’s bastion .

“I will contest the elections from Visavadar constituency,” he declared at a press conference in his hometown, Rajkot, in Saurashtra region that sends 58 legislators to the 182 member-strong State Assembly. His trusted constituency falls in Junagadh district of the region.

Mr. Patel, 84, who became the first BJP Chief Minister was unseated from power in an internecine power struggle in 1995, is hell-bent on defeating Mr. Modi. He no longer looks like the old man who was ousted in the ‘90s and his closest supporters say they have not seen him as aggressive as that. “The spirit of revenge doesn’t fear death. He has nothing to lose but his political and physical life,” shrugs one of Mr. Patel’s associates .

“Few believe that we can come to power because Gujarat has no three or multiple party polity, but we are a different case, as you could see from the response that our party got to Keshubhai’s whirlwind tour of Gujarat that concluded in Modi’s domain, and how,” argued another former Chief Minister, Suresh Mehta, while speaking to The Hindu. Mr. Mehta, a key player in Keshubhai’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), was referring to a 40,000-strong rally — the number quoted by a pro-Modi paper — in Ahmedabad’s eastern belt of Bapunagar that has a high labour population.

High on confidence, Mr. Patel says, “We are not going to name candidates who are rejects or rebels of the BJP or the Congress. We will have faces who are committed to public cause and who have a clean image.” He told reporters that the party’s parliamentary board would meet between November 11 and November 15 to discuss the candidate lists they had got.

The party has received as many as 1,200 applications for tickets for 100 seats, says Mr. Mehta. “Requests for other seats are trickling in.” He asserts that their party, made up of all Modi baiters, is an alternative to the BJP and the Congress.

Her also believes that his party, largely due to Keshubhai’s influence and image, would become the third in the State politics and would not have any truck with the Congress.

“Our surveys show that people in Gujarat don’t want Modi. But they also don’t look at the Congress as an alternative. For Modi, it is clear his bluff on the development front has been called,” Mr. Mehta says, admitting Modi has created a personality cult, “but created on propaganda.”

Few are optimistic about the GPP’s chances, saying it would get not more than a few single-digit seats. The confidence in the new party though is different. They claim they could tilt the balance. “We have seen it and experienced it. Our only problem is media management that Modi does so well. We are a new party, today we completed three months. No third party in Gujarat has got a response like we have got, but in this state media management works. We are weak at that,” says a candid Mr. Mehta.

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