As Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi bids for an unprecedented third term in office in Gujarat, the thought of his own electoral future seems to hardly cross his mind.
And that's not without a reason. After all, Modi is locked in an unequal fight with a political novice, the wife of a suspended IPS officer who took on the BJP strongman over the most sore point in his career--post-Godhra communal riots--in Maninagar assembly constituency here.
Congress nominee Shweta Bhatt, the Kathak dancer spouse of Sanjeev Bhatt, once said to be close to Modi but fell out with him in the aftermath of the riots of 2002, is challenging Modi in his pocket borough. Sanjeev Bhatt is fighting a legal battle against the formidable Chief Minister and he has now brought it to the electoral arena by proxy.
Though there are 12 candidates in the fray, for all practical purposes, the contest is between Modi and Congress' Bhatt, after former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, a powerful leader of politically strong Patel community, decided to withdraw his nominee for the seat which is part of the rapidly expanding Ahmedabad city.
A Modi baiter, Keshubhai floated his own outfit Gujarat Parivartan Party, along with another former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta and ex-Union Minister Kashiram Rana a couple of months ago to undercut his successor who largely contributed to his marginalisation in state politics.
Rana has since died, giving a jolt to the fledgling party. Even Muslims in the constituency with an electorate of 2.25 lakh readily concede it is "a no contest" between Modi, a hardboiled politician, and Shweta Bhatt.
"In Maninagar, it is going to be a cake-walk for Modi. Nobody can defeat him," says Mohammed Mohsin Ansari, a tailor. Sporting a flowing beard like a devout Muslim, Ansari, who had education till grade seven in a regular school and not in a Madarsa, says a section of the minority community may vote for Modi after he tempered his hardline Hindutva posture during his much-publicised Sadbhavna Mission.
He, however, feels that scars of 2002 carnage remain and appeared to blame Modi for that. "Three months of continuous mayhem and massacre cannot happen without state patronage," he says.
His view of even a minuscule section of Muslim voters backing Modi is, however, not shared by Salim Bhai, a milk and poultry vendor.
"Sadbhavna Mission has made no difference to Muslims who will vote for the Congress candidate. May be, the Muslims will not vote with the vigour they used to as the Congress candidate is weak," says Salim Bhai.
His friend A M Malik points to Shah-e-Alam neighbourhood in Dani Limda constituency across the road to say development, even in Ahmedabad city, has not been free from bias under Modi.
"You go and see Shah-e-Alam area populated by Muslims, see the filth and penury there. Development in Gujarat is limited to a few and certainly Muslims are not among them," he says.
Pradeep Jani, a marketing executive, however, terms Gujarat's development with Modi at helm over the last decade as "unparalleled in history".
"Modi has made Gujarat famous through sheer hardwork and his vision for development," he says, adding the Keshubhai factor would play no role in Maninagar where a number of public facilities like gymnasiums and swimming pools have been built and renovated by the state government.
Jani feels though the electoral outcome in Maninagar, the constituency, where Modi won twice by impressive margins ---75,333 votes in 2002 and 87,161 votes in 2007--would largely remain the same this time too.