Waghela better placed at Panchamahals

A file photo of Shankarsinh Waghela

A file photo of Shankarsinh Waghela   | Photo Credit: Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Manas Dasgupta

The Congress candidate for the Panchamahals Parliamentary seat, Union Textile Minister Shankarsinh Waghela, finds himself in a dilemma. If “Godhra” is forgotten, it could pose problems for him; if it is remembered, it could mean trouble for the Congress elsewhere in Gujarat.

The very mention of Godhra, the district headquarters of the tribal-dominated Panchamahals, evokes memories of the carnage on the outskirts of Godhra railway station in February 2002, and the subsequent communal riots that blighted the State. With family members, relatives and friends in jail under the now-repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act, for allegedly burning kar sevaks on the Sabarmati Express alive, Godhra continues to haunt the community.

BJP candidate

The Muslims, who constitute about 10 per cent of the voters in the Panchamahals constituency, will not cast a single ballot in favour of the BJP. The party’s candidate in this constituency, Prabhatsinh Chauhan, a former Minister of State in the Narendra Modi Cabinet, claims otherwise. But despite his efforts to reach out to the Muslims in Godhra, Mr. Chauhan’s close association with Mr. Modi is a disadvantage when it comes to getting minority votes.

Some Muslim voters in Panchamahals claim that they have forgotten Godhra and are ready to “move on.” “We cannot hang on forever to Godhra and remain backward,” says a Muslim advocate from the town. But a majority feel that it is one thing to forget Godhra, but quite another to vote for a BJP candidate.

Godhra issue

Although the Muslims can tilt the balance if they vote en bloc, Mr. Waghela cannot afford to exploit the Godhra issue. Any attempt to consolidate the minority votes in Godhra will give the BJP a handle to exploit elsewhere in the State.

A two-time member of the Lok Sabha from neighbouring Kapadvanj, Mr. Waghela had to shift to Panchamahals after the seat was abolished in the delimitation and a part of it merged with Panchamahals. He has contested twice from the same seat, which then was known as Godhra, but both times as the BJP nominee. He won the seat in 1991 but lost by a narrow margin of about 1,000 votes in the next election, when the Sangh Parivar machinery worked against him.

Mr. Waghela is banking on his work as Textile Minister and harps on the benefits he extended to cotton growers by fixing a higher support price. He also highlights the performance of the UPA government, particularly the national rural employment guarantee scheme.

Arch enemies

A joke doing the rounds in BJP circles relates to a “secret alliance” between the two arch enemies, Mr. Waghela and Mr. Modi, leading the Chief Minister to deliberately choose a weak candidate in Panchamahals. With both rivals coming from the Kshatriya community, but from different sub-castes, the Kshatriya votes will get divided if it takes place on caste lines. The BJP has the support of the sizeable “Patel” voters while Mr. Waghela expects tribal voters, who deserted the Congress for the BJP in the last two elections, to return to the Congress fold. Since Mr. Waghela’s candidature for the seat was decided well in advance, he had about four months extra time to woo voters. Though relatively better-placed, Mr. Waghela may still end up on the wrong side if there is a wave in favour of Mr. Modi or if his plan of sweeping the election with his so-called “development wand” works. Mr. Waghela insists there is no such Modi magic and the people will no longer be carried away by his “false claims.”

Corrections and Clarifications

The sixth paragraph of a report "Waghela better placed at Panchamahals"("Elections 2009" page, April 24, 2009) described Mr. Waghela to be atwo-time member of the Lok Sabha from Kapadvanj. Mr. Waghela was elected tothe Lok Sabha in 1977 from Kapadvanj, and elected in 1989 from Gandhinagaras a BJP candidate. Adding his 1999 and 2004 wins from Kapadvanj would makehim a three-time MP.

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