Out of jail, Amit Shah lords over Naranpura

He may be one of Gujarat's most controversial figures, facing the charge of plotting the murder of alleged gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh in a fake police encounter, but Chief Minister Narendra Modi's Man Friday Amit Shah is more loved than feared in Naranpur.

The portly Shah, a key strategist in 'Team Modi', is locked with Congress' Jeetu Bhai Patel, who crossed over from BJP weeks ahead of the assembly elections, in an electoral battle he is expected to win hands down in this BJP bastion.

Though there are 23 candidates vying for the Naranpura assembly seat, it is a straight contest between Shah and Patel, belonging to the two dominant communities in the constituency with an electorate of little over 2.13 lakh.

Shah was allowed to enter Gujarat this September by the the Supreme Court, nearly two years after his arrest on July 25, 2010, when he was charged with the murder, extortion, kidnapping besides five other sections of IPC in connection with the killing of Sheikh in an allegedly fake encounter and subsequently eliminating his wife Kausar Bi and associate Tulsiram Prajapati.

Sheikh allegedly ran an extortion racket with the help of senior police officers and four IPS officers including D G Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian, Abhay Chudasama and Dinesh M N, apart from eight other officers of lesser rank are under arrest in the case.

The gory details of these extra-judicial killings may not give a good account of Shah as a politician, but for an overwhelming majority of voters in this urban, middle and high-middle class locality of Ahmedabad city, Shah is regarded as a "saviour".

"We don't believe he had hatched the conspiracy to eliminate Sohrabuddin and others but even if he did, he played the saviour for Hindus. The AK 47 rifles, hand grenades and bullets recovered from Sohhrabuddin's place would have been used against us," says Hemang Bhai, a realtor.

Shah was Minister of State for Home when these alleged fake encounters took place and the police officials accused in the case reported directly to him.

Shah, who was granted bail in October 2010 by the Gujarat High Court but was forced out of the state by a Supreme Court order, has now brought out a booklet that proclaims his innocence and presents him as a victim of Congress and CBI.

"With malicious political intent, Congress misused CBI to falsely implicate Amit Shah in Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Sohrabuddin was a terrorist from whose house AK 47, 150 hand grenades, one lakh cartridges and explosives were seized," claims the booklet.

"The Centre falsely implicated him and sent him to jail. He was kept away from Gujarat and his family for two years but who can defeat the truth?" it reads.

"This time we have to ensure that Amit Bhai wins with the largest margin in entire Gujarat. He takes care of his constituency and party workers", he says.

In Naranpura, the politically and numerically influential Patels and Banias, the traditional votebank of BJP in Gujarat, together constitute over 60 per cent of the electorate.

Former Chief Minister and Modi-baiter Keshubhai Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party, which is expected to pose a challenge to the incumbent Chief Minister in Kutch-Saurashtra belt of the state, is unlikely to make a dent in BJP's vote bank in Naranpura.

"Keshubhai is a Leuva Patel, while Ahmedabad and particularly Naranpura, is dominated by Kadva Patels. Jeetubhai (a Kadva Patel) will find it hard to even get polling agents for every booth. Such is the sentiment of the voters here," says Hemang.

Hemang Bhai is not wide off the mark as Jeetu Bhai Patel's campaign headquarters, right in the premises of 'Manasi Hospital' in Wadaj which he owns, has huge stacks of plastic chairs but hardly any Congress worker.

Patel, an orthopaedic surgeon, was BJP MLA in 2002 but was refused nomination for 2007 polls. He remained in the saffron party but switched over to Congress just before the current elections.

"Jeetubhai is a man of compassion. He does not believe in destructive politics. His supporters too are educated people who have their own work to do before they come here," says Som Bhai, who prefers to introduce himself as a campaigner for Jeetu Bhai rather than Congress, explaining the reason behind the place presenting a deserted look.

Jeetu Bhai himself, when asked why the dominant Kadva Patel community is not backing him, says,"I don't believe in caste or communal politics. But people should choose their representative as carefully as they choose a groom for their daughters".

"Jeetu Bhai's attack against Amit Bhai is unacceptable. It will definitely go against him (the Congress candidate)," says Jignesh Pandya, a teacher.

Amit Shah, who is credited with wresting control of various cooperative banks, dairy cooperative societies and even cricketing bodies from Congress, had won the 2007 polls from Sarkhej seat by a massive margin of over 2.35 lakh votes trouncing Congress' Shashikant Patel.

He had earlier bagged the seat by handsome margins of over 1.32 lakh and 1.58 lakh votes against Congress candidates in 1998 and 2002 assembly elections.

After the delimitation exercise, Sarkhej was trifurcated into Naranpur, Vejalpur and Ghatlodia constituencies. That Shah's bungalow at Naranpur is no less than a pilgrimage for his followers is evident when Hemang Bhai says "even lord Shiva would have lost this election against Amit Bhai."

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