The Gujarat elections, which were swept by the BJP in a historic result, also saw the party’s candidates directly or indirectly connected with the 2002 riots win their seats. Those not fighting on BJP tickets, though, were not as lucky.
Godhra MLA C K Raulji, who had won the seat with a narrow margin after defecting from the Congress, won this time expanding his lead substantially, and personally besting his winning margin.
The BJP had deployed its star campaigners, like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Ministers Yogi Adityanath and Himanta Biswa Sarma, to campaign in the constituencies of Naroda and Godhra, while Union Home Minister Amit Shah made several references to the 2002 riots in his speeches, including saying that “the rioters had been taught a lesson”.
Among the winners was first-timer Payal Kukrani, the daughter of Naroda Patiya riot convict Manoj Kukrani, who polled 1.12 lakh votes, or 71% of the total, performing better than the 2017 BJP winner from the seat, Balram Thawani, who had got 65% of the votes.
Naroda, which saw some of the worst violence of 2002, has been a BJP stronghold. Riot accused Maya Kodnani, who had been a minister in the Narendra Modi state Cabinet at the time, had won consistently from the Naroda seat with 1-lakh plus vote margins.
The Naroda battle was essentially between the BJP and AAP. The candidate of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which got the seat as per the arrangement with the Congress, lost his deposit. The AAP candidate was Omprakash Tiwari, who had contested in 2017 on a Congress ticket.
Kodnani was by Kukrani’s side during campaigning while, for the first time since 2005, Modi touched Naroda during a roadshow. Kodnani, who is still facing trial in the Naroda Gam case and is out on bail, was greeted with party workers and people with cheers, and many of them sought her out for blessings.
The Sindhis are the dominant community in Naroda constituency, along with a significant number of people with origins in Rajasthan and migrants. The BJP has consistently fielded a Sindhi from here since 1995 (Kodnani, Thawani and Kukrani are all Sindhis).
C K Raulji, who was part of the Jail Advisory Committee that recommended the early release of 11 convicts in the case of gangrape of Bilkis Bano and murder of her family members, sealed his win in this seat with a margin of over 35,000 votes. In 2017, he had won by just 258 votes in the Muslim-dominated seat, after shifting from the Congress to the BJP just ahead of elections. BJP leaders who were unhappy over the ticket to Raulji were also believed to have hurt his electoral chances.
Throughout his campaign, Raulji steered clear of making any reference to the 2002 riots, including the Bilkis Bano case. Just three days before polling, Bilkis approached the Supreme Court to challenge the remission of the sentence of convicts in her case.
Adityanath was among the star campaigners for Raulji, and in his speech, the UP CM noted that Gujarat had become “riot- and curfew-free” under BJP rule. Adityanath’s road show in Godhra had a yellow bulldozer adorned with BJP flags in tow. Referring to the fire in a coach of the Sabarmati Express train in 2002, that sparked off the riots, Adityanath had termed it “sacrifice of the Ram bhakts”.
The seat used to be a Congress stronghold, with the party winning Godhra in 1972, 1975, 1980, 1985, with its candidate Khalpa Abdulrahim Ismail three of those times.
A close aide of former Gujarat chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela, Raulji began his political career in the Janata Dal, winning the 1990 Assembly polls from Godhra, defeating the Congress for the first time. He joined the BJP in 1991, and won the Assembly by-poll from the seat that year. He also won the seat on a BJP ticket in 1995 and later joined Vaghela’s Rashtriya Janta Party (RJP). He has been a Cabinet Minister on three occasions.
Raulji joined the BJP in August 2017 when a series of defections to the BJP happened.
A Godhra BJP leader told The Indian Express earlier that a key reason for Raulji’s low victory margin in 2017 was that nearly 18,000 votes (10% of the total) went to an Independent, Jashvantsinh Salamsinh Parmar. Now in the BJP, Parmar campaigned for Raulji this election.
Some of the Muslim vote this time is believed to have moved to the AAP and AIMIM, which fielded candidates in Godhra. While the AAP got 6% of the votes (11,800 in all), the AIMIM accounted for 5% (9,500 votes). The Congress’s vote share declined by around 9%, to 32% of the votes.
D G VANZARA’S PARTY
The third in the poll field with links to 2002 riots was retired IPS officer D G Vanzara, who floated a Praja Vijay Paksh party ahead of the polls and fielded 22 candidates. He himself did not contest.
Vanzara, who saw a quick rise during the Modi years as CM as the Ahmedabad Crime Branch DCP, and as swift a fall after his name came up in a slew of alleged extrajudicial killings, cases, where he now stands acquitted, had claimed during the launch of the party that he aims to contest on the plank of “political power-meets-spiritual power” to erase the environment of fear and rampant corruption in the BJP’s 27 years of uninterrupted rule.
However, Vanzara’s candidates polled less than a 100 votes in two seats (Tharad and Danilimda), and less than a 1,000 in 15 seats. In four seats they could manage a few couple of thousand votes. In terms of vote share, the highest the party could manage was around 2.6% in Devgadhbaria, where it polled around 5,000 votes.
GULBERG SOCIETY WITNESS
Another Gujarat riot face, Imtiazkhan Pathan, a star witness in the Gulberg Society massacre case of 2002, contested as a Janata Dal (United) candidate from Bapunagar. There were 16 Independents in this seat, apart from 12 fielded by various parties.
Pathan polled the lowest votes in the constituency – 30.