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Patel tries image change for Gujarat

The Times of India News Service

NEW DELHI: Stricken by drought, communal conflicts and controversies, Gujarat seems to be trying hard for an image change. The state is worried that the negative publicity it has evoked in the recent years because of communal tensions, could erode its advantages of infrastructure and strong industrial base, which attracted largest foreign direct investments just a couple of years back.

``I want to invite any Christian body or independent agency to come to Gujarat and see if there has been any bias or discrimination against any community or social group,'' chief minister Keshubhai Patel said in an interview to The Times of India on Saturday.

The chief minister claimed that in a campaign against organised crime his administration had accounted for anti-social elements in every community. ``Most of the people arrested were Hindus. A criminal is a criminal, he has no communal or caste identity,'' he said.

However, while the crime rate in other parts of the country had steadily gone up, in Gujarat it had come down by eight per cent, Patel said.

While not entirely denying incidents of anti-Christian violence, he termed them as local happenings without any wider significance. ``Such things can happen anywhere, between two social groups or within a community. My government showed no bias in dealing with the situation,'' he said.

Clearly Patel is worried that repetition of Dangs might affect the state's image in the outside world and slow down the flow of investments. ``I have not turned down a single application for land for building a church,'' he said.

On the defensive about the VHP campaign against the Christians, Patel was, however, dismissive of the anti-Narmada activists. ``If the Narmada water is available for irrigation, Gujarat is ready for a new green revolution; it can become another Punjab,'' he insists. Patel alleged a ``conspiracy in attempts to deny Gujarat the river water'' and said, ``Some vested interests are determined to see that Gujarat misses the development bus.''

``Those who agitated against the dam did not come to take part in the drought relief operations,'' he remarked stingingly. The canals constructed for the dam have the capacity to carry 40,000 cusec of water. ``The canal network can irrigate 45 lakh acres of land, 65 per cent of the land is currently under the grip of drought,'' he said.

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