Narendra Modiís rival revels in new role

Shweta bhatt

As she travels through Maninagar in Ahmedabad, Shweta Bhatt attracts a lot of interest, with some people waving at her and others declaring, "We have seen her," or, "This woman has fought fearlessly for her husband."

The response delights the homemaker who had never thought she would one day be campaigning in a direct contest against Narendra Modi. "Kahan se kahan aa gayi hoon. Socha hi nahin tha," says Shweta, 48, wondering at this sudden turn of fate.

The government has suspended Shweta's husband, Sanjiv Bhatt, the IPS officer who told the Supreme Court that he was witness to a 2002 meeting in which Modi allegedly asked bureaucrats and police officials to allow Hindus to vent their anger against Muslims. Travelling in an open Gypsy, donning a Congress scarf, Shweta finds herself campaigning against the man her husband testified against.

"People are coming to support me," she says. "They want a change and I am here to bring that change, freedom and true democracy." Modi had won the seat by 80,000 votes in the last election.

"Have to yuddh aej kalyan" (Now, war is the only welfare), goes Shweta's campaign slogan. Her supporters chant, "Maninagar ki sherni aayi," describing her as a lioness.

From time to time, she is surrounded by groups of women, Dalits, the poor, traders and even policemen who randomly join her, Shweta greets every person she comes across in Khokhra, Isanpur and Maninagar, which make up her constituency.

She tries to address every person differently, which she believes will prove her strength. Isanpur has Muslims, Dalits and various sections of the poor. Maninagar has a Brahmin majority followed by Patels, Baniyas and Thakars. Brahmins are a target constituency with their 60,000 votes. So are the elderly, and women.

An elderly man offers her a garland. "Will you bring about a policy for real uplift of Hindus, Muslims and Christians living in neglect?" "Yes, I will," she says, "but you will have to break the policy of silence you have been following. Speak up on December 17."

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