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'It was a Hindutva wave'

By Sheela Bhatt in Ahmedabad
December 15, 2002 11:52 IST
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No revelry, no teeming mass of supporters: Rajiv Bhavan, the Congress headquarters in Ahmedabad's Paldi, looked truly Hindutva-hit this morning.

At 1000 IST, there were not many Congress leaders around. The few we met were forlorn, despondent.

Urmila Patel, Congress leader and wife of the late chief minister Chimanbhai Patel, was emotionally chocked; her son Siddharth Patel had lost from Dabhoi.

"More than 250 sadhus, mostly belonging to the Sankheda-town based Swaminarayans, campaigned against my son," she said. "How can you counter that kind of door-to-door campaign?

"Sadhus went to houses with lady workers of BJP to pursue housewives!

"Aa to Hindutva ni hawa hati. [It was a Hindutva wave.]"

Suresh Pachauri, the deputy of Congress general secretary in charge of Gujarat Kamal Nath, has been in the state for many months, planning and executing the campaign.

"Wherever riots took place, Hindu-Muslim polarization was sharp," he said. "It's unfortunate to see this kind of situation, where communal sentiments overshadowed the issue of development."

The pensive Pachauri was heard asking his leaders in Delhi on his cell phone, "What are the reason we should quote for our defeat?"

He told, "Win or defeat is irrelevant, but the question is: will the voters trust people who engineer riots?"

Himanshu Vyas, a Congress office-bearer, tried hard to smile. "[Narendra] Modi or his communal politics could do nothing in Saurashtra or south Gujarat," he said. "That's the moot point. He could only gain where riots took place."

Madhusudan Mistry, member of Parliament and Congress chief Shankersinh Vaghela's confidant, surfing news channels when we caught up with him, had more reason to worry -- in his area, Modi and his Hindutva battalion had made inroads.

The MP from the Sabarkantha tribal area said, "This defeat means that an emotional issue always overtakes all other issues in Indian politics."

Vaghela is expected at the Congress Bhavan late afternoon. But there may not be many to cheer him.

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Sheela Bhatt in Ahmedabad