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Godhra, considered since 2002 a turning point for the Narendra Modi regime, has not had a Muslim MLA since Abdul Rahim Khalpa's 1975-90 stint. And for the first time since 2002, it does not have even a Muslim contender for the seat.
There had been six Muslim candidates to start with, but they withdrew this week, apparently in support of Congress candidate and sitting MLA C K Raulji. The Congress is hoping this will prevent a split of Muslim votes. The absence of a Muslim candidate notwithstanding, Godhra's 48,300 Muslim voters are potential game-changers, accounting for a fifth of an electorate of 2.20 lakh.
There has been another first in Godhra, this one from the BJP. It has set up an election office — it's the office of the BJP Minority Morcha — in Polan Bazar, home to many Ghanchi Muslims accused in the Sabarmati train burning of 2002. BJP candidate Pravinsinh Chauhan inaugurated the office and said, "If Muslims help vote me to power, I promise to ensure basic facilities such as sewer lines and water supply that have not reached Muslim areas in the last five years."
Chauhan, son of sitting Godhra MP Prabhatsinh Chauhan, faces a number of criminal charges. His image could be an obstacle, with even some BJP workers saying that seeking votes in Narendra Modi's name would work better than doing so on the candidate's own strength. "The BJP has given the ticket to someone who faces more than a dozen criminal charges," Raulji said while campaigning at Nasirpur village, some 5 km from Godhra.
Raulji said the withdrawal of the six Muslim candidates was a gesture of support to the Congress, driven by the belief that the BJP candidate's family "was involved in the 2002 riots". "Muslim votes will now come to the Congress," said Raulji, who had won the 2007 election comfortably against Prabhatsinh Chauhan.