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'Advantage Congress' in Khedbrahma

By Manas Dasgupta

KHEDBRAHMA (GUJARAT) DEC. 6. The former Gujarat pradesh Congress president, Amarsinh Chaudhary, has claimed that in the December 12 elections to the Assembly, the ruling BJP's communal card would not be effective at least in the rural constituencies such as his, Khedbrahma. The anti-incumbency factor would prove to be the BJP's undoing, he said.

The voters in this remote reserved tribal constituency were so upset with the "non-performance" of the Government that it could cost the ruling party its seat in Gandhinagar, Mr. Chaudhary said. "Though being a former Chief Minister, I still have contacts with the officers in the secretariat, yet I could not solve the problems of the people in my constituency under the BJP regime," he added.

In spite of this, Mr. Chaudhary is sitting pretty in Khedbrahma. He hopes to improve his margin of victory, which was more than 25,000 votes in 1998, more so because he is involved in a straight contest with a comparatively little-known BJP rival, Ramilaben Bara, daughter of a former MLA, Becharbhai Bara.

Mr. Chaudhary had won the seat in the last two elections, ever since he opted out of his native constituency of Vyara in south Gujarat due to strong opposition from his one-time political mentor and the then Congress strongman, Jinabhai Darji, and both the times with comfortable margins.

However, this time he is likely to encounter a tougher opposition from Ms Bara who is respected as the "most educated lady" among the tribals.

An Under-Secretary in the State Government — a job she quit to contest the elections — she had earlier worked as a teacher in the local high school for about a decade. In addition, she has a clean slate in politics.

Traditionally a Congress votebank, the tribals constitute nearly 65 per cent of the electorate in Khedbrahma.

The 12,000 or so Muslim voters have resolved to vote for the Congress because Khedbrahma town was among the semi-urban localities in north Gujarat to have been hit badly by the communal riots and most of the affected Muslims still live in camps, both in urban and rural areas.

This could also mean bad news for Mr. Chaudhary because if the minority votes have consolidated in favour of the Congress, a polarisation of the Hindu votes in favour of the BJP cannot altogether be ruled out. Besides, the large-scale participation of the tribals in the riots indicates that their loyalty to the Congress may not be intact.

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