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BNP heats up Chhota Udepur contest

Our Regional Bureau  |  Ahmedabad 

The tribal dominated Chhota Udepur constituency of central Gujarat, which had witnessed one of the keenest contests in the Lok Sabha election with the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate securing just 0.29 per cent more votes than the Congress candidate in the past, is all set for another close fight.
This time around, Mohan Delkar's Bharatiya Navshakti Party (BNP), which has fielded candidates in the entire tribal belt of Gujarat, is expected to give the traditional parties a run for their money. The Chota Udepur seat is reserved for scheduled castes.
The 1999 general elections saw of the emerging winner over by a margin of 1,198 votes, a slender margin for a Parliamentary election. While Ramsinh secured 48.79 per cent of the votes polled, Naranbhai polled 48.50 per cent of the votes.
More importantly, has roped in disgruntled district and taluka level leaders. The BNP candidate Dinesh Tadvi himself is a former leader. Tadvi was taluka panchayat president of the BJP before he switched his allegiance to BNP.
"The Congress will win here with a comfortable majority. While we would have won it even without the entry of Dinesh Tadvi, Tadvi is only hastening the BJP defeat as he is basically eating into BJP votes," said Naranbhai Rathwa, the Congress candidate. Rathwa has won the seat consecutively for four years, from 1989 to 1998.
Traditionally a Congress stronghold, the Chhota Udepur seat went the BJP way in the 1999 election. Subsequently, the BJP consolidated its position in the region, winning a majority of the assembly seats in the recently concluded election.
Govind Bhatt, a senior BNP leader of the region, said that the Congress did nothing for the local tribal population for ten years. even when Naranbhai represented the constituency, the BJP too did nothing in the past five years. "In addition, Dinesh Tadvi has a clean image among people, and we feel we can create a huge impact," he said.
Bhatt admitted that since Tadvi was in the BJP before joining BNP, almost all his followers - BJP sympathisers - will vote for him, thus splitting the BJP vote.
Bhatt however maintained that although Tadvi will primarily divide BJP votes, people in general will vote for a change, thus defeating both the BJP and the Congress.
"However, it is true that the advent of BNP has caused most damage to the BJP in Chhota Udepur," Bhatt said.
It appears that Delkar's BNP will play a role in deciding the winning candidate in most tribal dominated seats of central and south Gujarat, though the party may not see many candidates winning the election.
Delkar, who has himself done considerable work in Tilakwada segment of Narmada district, is looking to reach out into neighbouring districts too. BNP has begun wooing the Muslims. Muslims of Panvadh, Sankheda and Nasvadi have joined the BNP.

First Published: Wed, April 14 2004. 00:00 IST