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Two contests in Gujarat

Soutik Biswas | 15:09 UK time, Sunday, 26 April 2009

Manmohan SinghAhmedabad is boiling. The city is like a cauldron sucking the life out of its usually energetic people. They walk around languidly, almost in slow motion. Traffic is thin, and the drivers irate. A prolonged heat wave simply refuses to abate.

My driver cranks up the air-conditioning in the car but the heat roils inside the vehicle. He tells me it is 43 degrees centigrade at midday. That is when we have rolled into the city, the first stop on our cross-country election journey on the BBC train. A gust of hot air hits my face as soon as I disembark, and the heat soars when I step out of the unusually quiet railway platform.

Did the heat trip up a young man who ended up hurling a shoe at the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, at his modestly-attended election meeting here today? The news channels reported the shoe landed some 20-ft away from Mr Singh as he droned on about economic development. The prime minister is the fourth politician who has had footwear thrown at him from members of the public - and in one instance, a journalist- in the past month or so. Like the other high-profile targets, Mr Singh has also forgiven the shoe-thrower, it is being reported.

The TV channels showed the young culprit - a student of computer science- being taken away by the police. He may have been bored by Mr Singh's speech, a friend here quipped. Talking about the virtues of economic development in Gujarat, he says, is like preaching to the converted. People in this industrially developed state have for long enjoyed the fruits of relative development, unlike many benighted parts of India.

The local Sunday papers are full of politics and cricket, the twin Indian obsessions. Ahmedabad and the rest of the western Gujarat state go to polls on Thursday, so politics is the flavour of the season. Following Mr Singh's is the shadow prime minister and BJP's LK Advani's public meeting in the evening. Will the people who turn up there now be required to take off their shoes?

Then there is the cricket. Two Gujarat-born brothers, who are also members of the Indian cricket team, are pitted against each other in a day into night game in the ongoing Indian Premier League tournament in South Africa. The tournament was banished abroad this season due to security concerns at home. India, clearly, cannot handle a twin challenge of cricket and political shoe-throwing at the same time.


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