Crowds at a BJP rally in Gujarat | Image courtesy: @narendramodi
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The two-phased Gujarat elections are now just days away and are being held in the year that marks 20 years since the 2002 post-Godhra Gujarat riots. Over a thousand people were killed in the violence that engulfed the state of Gujarat following the burning of the Sabarmati Express in which 59 ‘kar sevaks’ returning from Ayodhya were killed.
While 20 years is a long time in the history of a state to move over such a massacre and tread the path of inclusiveness and development, it seems the 2022 election is being tapped to revisit the forgettable past.
Payal Kukarni’s candidature
The incumbent BJP has given Payal Kukarni, a 30-year-old anaesthetist, a ticket for the upcoming election. Payal has been fielded from the Naroda seat of Ahmedabad and is one of the youngest candidates who have been given tickets by the ruling party.
While on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with Payal’s candidature or the seat she has been allocated, the facts and family linkage come back to haunt the new entrant in politics.
Payal is the daughter of Manoj Kukarni, who was convicted and sentenced to a life term in the Naroda Patiya murder case. Naroda Patiya witnessed the worst of the pogrom that marred the history of Gujarat forever.
While it would not be correct to view the young doctor’s candidature from the prism of her family’s past, the fact is that her father is by her side while the BJP candidate is campaigning to seek votes from the electorate of Naroda seat. Manoj Kukarni, a life convict, is currently out on bail and that is the reason why he is able to appeal to voters on his daughter’s behalf.
Naroda has been one of the strongholds of the Bharatiya Janata Party which has been in power in the state for nearly three decades now. The seat has been in BJP’s kitty since 1990.
This time, the BJP decided to bypass sitting MLA Balram Thawani for the seat and fielded Payal Kulkarni. While no official word is available, sources say the party believes Kukarni would be a more reliable candidate in this year’s election, in which the anti-incumbency appears to be high, the Congress has a chance of making a comeback after 27 years and the new entrant AAP could become a key factor in deciding the outcome of the state-wide results.
However, the decision to field Payal is turning out to be a controversial one, especially in view of the recent release of Bilkis Bano case convicts.
Outrage over remission to Bilkis Bano gangrape case convicts
The remission given to the 11 convicts by the BJP government in Gujarat on the ground of ‘good behaviour’ already sent ripples across the state. The Congress has already promised that it would revoke the remission if the party is voted to power.
The BJP’s move to give the ticket to sitting MLA CK Raulji from Godhra has also added to the sentiment against the party as the latter had described the convicts as Brahmins with ‘good sanskar’.
The visuals of the 11 convicts being garlanded by their supporters after their release from prison had triggered outrage across the nation. The remission has already been challenged by some activists in the Supreme Court and the matter is sub-judice.
For the BJP, the Bilkis Bano case is more of a non-issue now. Bilkis Bano’s village falls under the Limkheda Assembly constituency which is with the BJP currently. Babubhai Soniyabhai Bhabor, the BJP MLA from Limkheda, was recently quoted as saying by PTI, “This is not at all an issue in this election. People are living peacefully and even Muslims of this area are in support of the BJP and it’s wrong to predict the Bilkis Bano case will help the Congress through consolidation of Muslim votes.”
The BJP’s move to field six-time MLA Raulji from Godhra also highlights the thinking within the party and the ‘confidence’ it has about its actions.