AHMEDABAD (TIP): Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, enjoys tremendous goodwill in Bharuch which sent him to the Lok Sabha in 1977, 1980 and 1984. That he last won 30 years ago hasn’t stopped people from talking about his good deeds.
The most interesting one relates to his helping trace the young son of a local businessman, Narendra Modi, who had been missing for three months. Known as ‘Babubhai’ locally, Patel, 65, was close to the late Sanjay Gandhi and has remained fiercely loyal to the family. He lost the elections in 1989 and 1991 and never contested after that, taking the Rajya Sabha route to the Parliament and becoming a powerful Congress leader from Gujarat.
He was the last Muslim leader to be elected to the Lok Sabha from Gujarat which turned into a laboratory for Hindutva and paid rich dividends for the BJP. For the past year or so, after being sidelined by Rahul Gandhi in party affairs, Patel has been talking of retirement and spending more time in Piraman, his village. Notwithstanding Patel’s popularity, the Congress stands little chance of winning Bharuch.
In 2012, Congress lost in all the seven assembly segments and has no control over any of the 11 taluk panchayats. The biggest electoral spoiler for Congress is the communal divide in a constituency which has 22% Muslims, next only to Ahmedabad (West) which has 23%. The key swing away from the Congress to the BJP has been that of tribals who match the Muslim population in Bharuch. The BJP’s candidate Mansukh Vasava is a tribal and seeking his fifth term in Parliament. It’s the only instance of any party giving the ticket to a tribal from a general seat in Gujarat. The tribal plus Hindu votes ensure his victory.
The Congress, which has fi elded a Patel candidate, is happy with the absence of Janata Dal (U) leader Chhotu Vasava from the electoral arena. Dubbed as a tribal Robin Hood, Vasava has a lot of muscle and holds sway over tribals in the Valia-Jhagadia region. Cricketer Munaf Patel, called the Ikhar Express, is a prominent face of Bharuch and has inspired many young cricketers from the district. Interestingly, Muslims have become prosperous over the years.
Like Mohammedbhai Gheewala, 69, whose packaged Sofey Tea is a huge hit in south Gujarat since 1996. A former Patel loyalist and now Modi admirer, Asifa Khan is confident that Muslims will vote for Modi in large numbers. “There is a positive socioeconomic change in the status of Muslims here,” she says. There’s been a spurt in investment and employment opportunities in the region.