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Gujarat: Congress Candidate Alleges She Was Stopped From Campaigning By Police

Sonal Patel, the Congress candidate from Gandhinagar – the seat Amit Shah will also contest from – alleged that BJP workers stopped her car and threatened her on April 8. She said her party workers in Sanand were also harassed into silence.
Photo: X/@zeeshan_iyc.

New Delhi: “I was stopped from campaigning. If the BJP is so confident of victory, why stop other candidates from campaigning?”, asks Sonal Patel, the Congress’s candidate from Gujarat’s Gandhinagar.

Patel, 63, is contesting from Gandhinagar, which is also being eyed by Union home minister and BJP candidate Amit Shah, for his second tenure – the BJP has, since 1989, been on a winning spree in the Gandhinagar parliamentary constituency.

In 2019, Amit Shah secured a massive victory, defeating the rival Congress candidate Chatursinh Javanji Chavda by over 5.5 lakh votes.

“They want to create some sort of record victory like in 2019. That is why they are using the police to create obstacles in other candidates’ campaigning routines,” alleges Patel.

Patel, also the party co-in charge for Mumbai and western Maharashtra, is solid in her struggle against Shah.

“How is it that there are security issues only for me in Gandhinagar, that other people can freely campaign but the Congress can’t?” Patel asks.

Apart from being stopped in Gandhinagar, Patel has alleged that Congress workers in Sanand were also harassed into silence and coerced into exhibiting non-participant behaviour in campaign routines.

Patel has served as a member of several architecture organisations. Before being elevated to the post of All-India Congress Committee secretary, Patel served as the president of the Gujarat Pradesh Mahila Congress Committee between 2012 and 2018.

For Patel, ever since she decided to campaign at the beginning of April, she was coerced into staying silent.

On April 8, her vehicle was allegedly surrounded and stopped by BJP office bearers, where she was threatened with dire consequences if she did not leave.

This added to the fear, due to which many supporters did not come out for the next day’s campaigning round.

Also read: At Launch of New Book, Christophe Jaffrelot Talks Moditva, Undermining the Rule of Law and Gujarat

Patel also told The Wire that Congress workers were being threatened not to put up banners. Congress banners have also been removed from several places, she said.

Sources have revealed to The Wire that various community and political leaders from the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency were being subjected to undue pressure from the state apparatus simply to reduce their involvement in and support towards Congress campaigns.

Locals have also alleged that anti-social elements have been called and instructed to disrupt voting on election day and to ensure that no rickshaws are available in the afternoon.

Regarding this mass movement of the state apparatus against several candidates who are opposing the BJP in the ongoing elections, Shabnam Hashmi, a social activist and human rights campaigner, visited six assembly constituencies – Sabarmati, Sanand, Vejalpur, Kalol, Ghatlodia and Naranpura – to see the ground reality for herself.

Upon observation and interaction with over 200 community leaders, ordinary people, Congress and AAP members and district level leaders, and some candidates fighting from other parties, Hashmi wrote to the chief election commissioner (CEC) on how the police, including the crime branch, were either cajoling people into becoming inactive or not campaigning for Congress candidates, or were threatening people with consequences if they did not agree to do this.

Some were threatened with “dire consequences of cases being filed against them or with [the] reopening of old cases of petty crime and turning them into big ones”, Hashmi alleged.

She noticed that while some were told strongly not to campaign for the Congress, others were told to remain at home and eat chicken and fish (‘zaroorat hogi to bhijwa doonga’ – if you need, I will send – one person allegedly said).

Hashmi also writes how meetings were held at the Karnawati Club with community leaders where crime branch and special operations group officers, the police, and one former and one incumbent BJP MLA respectively were present, and that they were told strictly to ensure that candidates are put up and nominations filed. She also alleged that money was “being offered openly”.

In her letter to the CEC, Hashmi wrote of how in 2019, Juhapura and many other Muslim areas in Ahmedabad had witnessed disruption during polling when anti-social elements supported by BJP MLAs and the police had snatched away election lists, thrown away tables used by volunteers outside booths and created a ruckus so that more voters did not come out to vote.

She specifically said this happened outside FD School, NK School, Bata School, Makdampura School, AI School, Sunrise School, New Age School, Sian School and Adarsh Hindi Vidyalaya, among other places.

Her letter also acknowledges how, in hundreds of places in the Gandhinagar constituency, hoardings with photos of the Ayodhya Ram Temple are up with text such as ‘phir ek baar Modi sarkar’, ‘Modi ki guarantee’, ‘Viksit Bharat’, ‘500 varsh baad bhaviya mandir’ and ‘Shri Ram Mandir – Kamal ka button dabao, Bhajapa ko jitao, Gandhinagar Lok Sabha show, 18 April 2024, Guruwar’.

Stating how Patel and others were harassed, Hashmi has requested the CEC to take steps to stop this harassment of local voters as well as of community and political leaders by the local state machinery.

Patel and Hashmi have both urged authorities to ensure that extra forces are deployed in the Gandhinagar constituency to ensure that people can vote peacefully and that on May 7, anti-social elements, the local police and the ruling party do not create a situation like they did in 2019.

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