Both women are homemakers pitchforked into the Gujarat elections. Each has an axe to grind against Narendra Modi; each believes the chief minister or at least his party had wronged her husband.
And each has the blessings of Keshubhai Patel. Jagruti Pandya is the candidate for Keshubhai’s GPP in Ellisbridge while Shweta Bhatt, fighting Modi in Maninagar, has been granted a straight contest after Keshubhai withdrew his candidate.
Though both stress local issues, they leave no doubt they are contesting because of what happened to their husbands. “I was merely an observer when Sanjiv was fighting his battle with corruption but I decided to stand against Modi a year ago after the brutalities inflicted on my family,” says Shweta, whose husband Sanjiv Bhatt, an IPS officer now suspended, has testified that Modi had asked the police to go slow on rioters in 2002.
“My children were threatened, stones were thrown at an IPS officer’s house,” Shweta says. “I wanted to show him that a woman too can fight for her family and for the truth.”
Jagruti’s husband, slain BJP minister Haren Pandya, had represented the seat she is contesting. “Even though I hadn’t taken the legal or political route, I have been fighting for answers for almost a decade to questions about my husband’s murder,” she says. “People may make comparisons with Shweta Bhatt but, as far as I am concerned, people in Ellisbridge know about the good work done by my husband I have their goodwill.”
Shweta says sympathy is not what she is banking on. “I don’t even ask people for votes, I walk into their homes, talk to them, understand their issues and leave,” she says. “I am not expecting any sympathy; I am not a victim.”
In 2007, Modi won Maninagar by 75,000 votes against current Congress Union minister Dinsha Patel. Both Maninagar and Ellisbridge have around 2.2 lakh voters.
“In 12 years, Modi has never been to his constituency even once,” Shweta says. “He does not even know the issues people are grappling with. Apart from some areas of Maninagar, the rest are in bad shape. Waterlogging, lack of schools, hospitals, proper gutters — I have even had people coming to me saying that they don’t get water. I am not a political strategist and I think like a housewife and will ensure that these problems get solved.”
And Jagruti says: “I will take up cow-slaughter, chain-snatching and other issues such as