Modi, Waghela crowd-pullers

GODHRA NOV. 13. In one area where the two main contesting parties in the Gujarat Assembly elections, the ruling BJP and the Congress seem to be going neck-and-neck is in crowd-pulling.

The Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, and the Pradesh Congress president, Shankarsinh Waghela, have turned out to be good crowd-pullers for their respective parties.

Though the Congress officially kicked off its election campaign from Karamsad, the birth place of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, in central Gujarat on Monday, technically the party's electioneering had started ever since the State Assembly was dissolved in July.

Senior Congress leaders, particularly Mr. Waghela and his predecessor, Amarsinh Chaudhary, had been organising meetings and rallies in various parts of the State attracting huge crowds.

The Shastri Maidan stadium was almost packed to capacity when Mr. Waghela and the AICC general secretary in-charge of the Gujarat affairs, Kamal Nath, launched the party's campaign.

The huge turnout despite the absence of the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, and the way the crowd cheered Mr. Waghela gave ample proof of the PCC president's crowd-pulling capacity.

Mr. Modi's "gaurav rath yatra" had all along being attracting huge crowd and the launching of the 10th leg from Dakor and his meeting at Godhra, the scene of the train carnage, also on Monday was no exception.

In Godhra the way the crowd was reacting to Mr. Modi's Muslim-bashing gave an indication of the strong communal sentiments among a section of the people.

For the first time Mr. Modi described Muslims, specifically the residents of Signal Falia, the spot where the Sabarmati Express was stopped and burnt, killing 58 "Ram Sevaks,'' as a "communal tribe.''

Along with the Congress, he held the Muslim community responsible for the post-Godhra riots and told them in no uncertain terms that the minorities could not expect friendly relations unless they learnt to reciprocate the same.

Considering the fact that the minorities make nearly half of Godhra's population and also have a fair presence in the Panchamahals and other central Gujarat districts, Mr. Modi's attack was significant.

With not a single soothing word coming from him for the minorities, he showed the BJP was firm on playing the communal card and did not bother about their votes.

Both the BJP and the Congress leadership, however, are aware that the turnouts substantially "managed'' by the party workers involving heavy expenditure, did not automatically translate into votes.

As a senior Congress leader commented at the Karamsad meeting, many of the people present at the party rally yesterday were those who had attended Mr. Modi's "rath yatra" launch from the same place on October 31.

The party workers themselves constitute a large section of the audience and usually cheering of the leaders come at their prompting.

Many others attend the meetings to hear the views of both the parties before making up their mind, while a still larger section are brought with the promise of sight-seeing and pecuniary gains.

The good response at the Godhra meeting, however, has reassured the BJP about a better performance in the Panchamahals and central Gujarat this time.

The Congress considered as its stronghold the central Gujarat region from where it won 31 of the 43 seats from the Panchamahals, Dahod, Kaira, Anand and Vadodara districts and constituted half of its total 62 seats in the dissolved Assembly.

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