With less than two weeks to go for the crucial assembly elections in Gujarat, an opinion poll survey carried out by the weekly newsmagazine Outlook along with C-Fore suggests that the Congress has an edge over the BJP with a 12 per cent swing in its favour.

The survey projects that the Congress would win between 95 and 100 seats in the 182-member assembly. BJP is a close second with 80 to 85 seats.

The opinion poll also says that 83 per cent of the respondents said that instead of religion, it was the performance of the state government, which would make them decide for which party to vote.

Outlook’s survey findings are in sharp contrast to the projections by another weekly magazine India Today, which said that the BJP would get a two-thirds majority riding on a pro-Hindutva wave.

Dubious candidates

Both the BJP and the Congress have fielded a number of candidates with criminal records in Gujarat. NDTV looks at these campaigns and their campaigns.

BJP’s Jeetu Vaghela is campaigning in Sheherkotda – one of the most communally sensitive constituencies in Ahmedabad. He is accused of participating in a communal riot that resulted in the death of three people, and has four criminal cases registered against him for rioting, arson and possessing illegal firearms.

In fact, he was arrested a month after the riots broke out and has spent two months behind bars. He however denies the charges.

“I used to deliver food there and help people. If this is a crime, then so be it. If they think this is a crime, then let them say so,” said the BJP candidate.

In fact, both the Congress and the BJP have given as many 35 tickets to candidates with criminal records of which at least four figured prominently during the riots.

These include Mayabehn Kodnani, sitting BJP MLA from Naroda, whose name figured in an FIR but was later withdrawn and Farooq Sheikh, sitting Congress MLA from Kalupur, charged with murder and rioting.

“The political parties are being shortsighted. They give tickets to gangsters, criminals and mafia people thinking they will win. But they don’t realise the damage being done to the society,” observed Professor Trilochan Shastri, Association of Democratic Reform.

In an election where both the parties are stressing on what they call the vulnerability factor, despite Election Commission guidelines and lofty political promises, it seems that the background of the candidates matters little.

VHP plays up Godhra

After the Election Commission barred the BJP from using images of the Godhra attack in its election campaign, the party has started blacking out posters and billboards that have images of the burning coaches of the Sabarmati Express.

But now, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists are wearing and distributing T-shirts, posters and flyers that display the same theme.

The VHP argues that it is not campaigning for the elections and since it is not a political party, it is not bound by the Election Commission’s code of conduct.

However, a similar argument was not accepted by the Election Commission when it asked the state administration to stop the VHP’s Vijay Yatra from Godhra on the grounds that it could lead to communal tension.