Shah hopes to ride sympathy wave

Amit Shah
"...Congress, out of political vendetta, misused CBI and framed Amit Shah, sent him to jail in 2010, kept him away from the state and the family for two years in the encounter case of a terrorist named Sohrabuddin Sheikh from whose house an AK-47, 150 hand grenades, more than one lakh cartridges and explosives were seized. But who can defeat the truth? Winning the fight for justice at the Supreme Court, Amit Shah, who has remained MLA from Sarkhej for four consecutive terms, is now contesting for a fifth term from Naranpura constituency as your candidate..."

Thus reads a 10-page booklet being distributed in Naranpura constituency from where the former minister of state for home, who is alleged to have masterminded the encounter killings of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Kauser Bi and Tulsiram Prajapati, is contesting from the BJP.

Shah himself calls the charges "politically motivated". "I have gained sympathy over the years, but Congress will have to pay the price for what they did to me. Gujarat has only 12 cases of encounters, but there have been 1,200 such incidents across the nation," he tells The Indian Express at BJP's Usmanpura office on Thursday noon, hours before setting out for his evening campaign.

"Amitbhai has strong support from party workers at the ground level. The last two years, instead of affecting his political career, has actually benefited him in emerging as a powerful politician," says one of his supporters.

Around 5 pm, Shah briefs his party workers for about half-an-hour and then sets outs for campaigning with a convoy of cars, open jeeps and motorcycles trailing him from Usmanpura to Nava Vadaj.

The campaign starts from Saurabh High School with a loud burst of drums. Shah, standing on an open jeep and surrounded by party workers, starts waving his hands to the gathered crowd even as BJP workers distribute garlands to roadside vendors and people standing by the road.

"Amitbhai gave me shelter after AMC demolished my house about three years ago," said Laxmanbhai, a vegetable vendor who was thrilled after garlanding Shah.

"Amitbhai was the home minister of Gujarat. Whatever happened to him was not good," said Manilal Prabhudas Patel, a teacher and resident of Gokuldham Housing Society, from where Amit Shah's caravan passed by.

Soon after the Assembly elections in December 2002, Shah was inducted as minister of state for home. As the youngest minister in Narendra Modi's cabinet, he gradually emerged as the right-hand of the CM and also came to enjoy close proximity with BJP veteran L K Advani.

His trouble started in July 2010, the 48-year-old Shah was charged in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case by the CBI. Four months later, Shah was freed on bail but barred by the Supreme Court from entering Gujarat so that he could not influence witnesses.

About two months ago, Shah returned from his exile after Supreme Court granted him relief ahead of Assembly polls.

'My rival a turncoat, I will win with a huge margin'

Have the charges against you in the fake encounter cases impacted your political standing?

I have gained more sympathy.

The whole thing (encounter cases) is politically motivated. Congress has been losing since early 1990s. They are desperate to come to power again by creating issues out 12 encounters in Gujarat and forgetting similar cases across the country.

Do you think you lost your base while you were away since October 2010?

I had apprehensions that I would lose it, but BJP as an institution is very strong. Instead, I have gained sympathy of party workers who have kept my base intact.

What do you think will be your winning margin this time?

I have been winning elections with big margins (record was 2.35 lakh in 2007). Since Naranpura is a newly carved constituency from Sarkhej and number of voters are a little over 2 lakh, I will win with huge percentage.

What is your strength against the rival candidate?

My rival is a turncoat (Jitubhai Patel, who joined Congress from BJP). In Naranpura, these things matter a lot.

What promises do you hold out for your voters?

I have been working for their betterment and will keep doing it. I am not making any promises.

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