Test for BJP in bastion with a changed profile

Muslims now in majority, Khadia MLA banks on dynasty and infighting in Cong

Khadia, in the centre of of Ahmedabad, has thrown the BJP a challenge. Delimitation has changed the profile of the area — which was known as Akbarpura in the Mughal era, was the epicentre of the 1942 freedom movement, and is home to many fighters from the 1956 Mahagujarat movement that led to the formation of Gujarat state.

It had for long been considered a BJP bastion, having been represented by late Assembly speaker Ashok Bhatt for at least two decades and by his son Bhushan Bhatt today. Today, the Hindu-dominated seat of Khadia is called Jamalpur-Khadia after a merger and 61 per cent of its voters are Muslims. All three merged areas, Jamalpur, Raikhad and Behrampura, are Congress strongholds with committed voters who mainly hail from the Muslim and Dalit communities.

Bhushan Bhatt, municipal corporator from Khadia ward, went on to win the Assembly seat following the death of his father. The very dynasty politics that the BJP treats so disdainfully is at play as the younger Bhatt seeks a re-election. And he is banking on other things to work in his favour.

Bhatt had, in fact, won courtesy Muslim voters in Raikhad municipal ward when his own base was eroded in the home turf of Khadia civic ward. He predicts 55 per cent of the voters will go with him. "I have held nearly 60 group meetings in the constituency, including the new areas. I believe my performance should be 55 out of 100," he says as he moves around his constituency distributing pamphlets that carry his father's photograph.

Amid the change in profile following the merger of Khadia with Muslim-dominated Jamalpur, what Bhatt is banking on, besides identification with his father, is possible gains out of infighting in the Congress.

Among the Muslims here is the Chhipa community, known for its total commitment to a Chhipa candidate, while the official Congress candidate, Samir Khan Pathan, is a non-Chhipa. Pathan is a sitting municipal councillor from Sarkhej ward and is thus considered an "imported candidate" by voters. Pathan faces a challenge from Jamalpur's sitting MLA Sabir Kabliwala, a Chhipa who has rebelled against the Congress and is contesting as an Independent. Kabliwala claims a following among Dalit voters too. Unless there is a patch-up between Kabliwala and Pathan, things could work out in Bhatt's favour.

Bhatt says his strength is the fact that Pathan is an outsider and Kabliwala is a non performer. "Of 67 proposals he submitted from his MLA fund, Kabliwala could get only two cleared for Behrampura, that too worth around Rs 4.5 lakh. The total worth of his proposals was Rs 3.5 crore," Bhatt says.

Even in Congress-dominated areas, Bhatt is greeted affectionately. Self-employed Women's Association activist Rajiben Parmar, 70, who lives in Vasant-Rajabnagar in Behrampura ward near Christian Society, has apprehensions whether Bhatt can win because "it is their area" but wishes he can.

Parsifal Lilaram Karia, who lives in the Mahatma Gandhi Society, had migrated from Hyderabad (Sind) during Partition. He declares his affection to for the BJP more than for the candidate. "I love the BJP and I will vote only for that party," he says, while offering Bhatt cashew nuts.

Asked if this election will test the influence of his father, Bhatt says, "Jamalpur and Behrampura are new to me, but I know that they have remained deprived of basic facilities under Congress corporators. People will vote out of confidence in Ashok Bhatt, who was MLA for 40 years. I am the only local official candidate here this time."

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