If Sanjiv Bhatt has till date been famous for taking on the might of Narendra Modi on his alleged complicity in the 2002 Godhra riots, the suspended IPS officer might have taken the first step in shredding his own fame.
By letting his wife Shweta be the Congress candidate against the Gujarat chief minister in the Assembly elections, Bhatt has done himself the biggest disfavour a man in uniform can do: make public his political allegiance.
From now, as the BJP was quick to point out, Bhatt would be seen as a Congress man. Make no doubt about that.
Quick off the block, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said, “In the last 10 years, they (Congress) carried out a hate campaign.... They defamed Gujarat to the hilt, and Sanjiv Bhatt became a major pawn in the hands of Congress."
And now, Javadekar added, "It is clear which forces are working behind Sanjiv Bhatt, after his wife became a Congress candidate."
While the Congress, according to all estimates and experts’ opinion, has little chance on ground to catch Modi off guard on his home turf — Modi had won the Maninagar seat by 87,161 votes in 2007; no mean feat considering the runner-up, Congress union minister Dinsha Patel, polled 52,407 votes — it is difficult to gauge exactly what the party, and the Bhatts, expects to achieve out of this tussle.
There could be four reasons, between the Congress and the Bhatt couple, why Shweta Bhatt agreed to be the Congress nominee:
1. Shock and surprise Modi by making public the decision on the last day of filing nominations.
2. Use Sanjiv Bhatt’s plucky anti-Modi stance and image to rally all anti-Modi, anti-BJP and fence-sitters to the Congress fold.
3. Dent Modi’s victory margin to score a political point.
4. None of the above, the decision being an emotional and spur-of-the-moment one.
That the Congress won the Maninagar seat last in 1985 says enough about the fortress the Ahmedabad locality has become for the saffron party. Modi’s twin victories from the seat have made it a few notches more so, according to all ground-level indications. In such a situation, what sympathy Shweta Bhatt can generate among the constituents is best left to scriptwriters penning episodes of mystery serials.
The best bet for the Bhatt couple and the Congress to effect bits and pieces of hypotheses 3 and 4 was to let Shweta Bhatt be an Independent candidate with the Congress declaring support for her. That would have ensured rallying around Sanjiv Bhatt’s supporters and fence-sitters at one go. It would have kept the suspended cop’s apolitical and anti-Modi image impact, and together with Congress votes, caused a dent in Modi’s margin of victory.
Remember: only 60.93 percent of the constituency’s 3,29,428 eligible voters had cast their votes in 2007. And given the fact that Congress’s Dinsha Patel polled an impressive 14,151 votes more than Congressman Yatin Oza’s 38,256 votes in 2002, it only means the fence-sitters did what the word suggests: they were sitting on the fence — undecided, back home.
Fence-sitters being an awfully stubborn, confused or sworn-to-ideology and-impartiality lot, they would have bit the Shweta Bhatt bullet better had she been an independent candidate. In Congress camp, she is unlikely to get many of them to her fold.
"Fighting against Modi is the logical step in our quest for democracy and to curb anti-democratic forces," Shweta Bhatt had said in the morning, before filing her nominations.
She might have taken that step but it could well be an antithesis of the “logical step” she wants everyone in Maninagar, Ahmedabad and Gujarat to take.