In a village that has no love lost for the BJP, three-time MLA and saffron renegade Kanubhai Kalsaria raises the tempo for Sadbhavna Manch. Brajesh Kumar soaks in the festive, pre-poll atmosphere. This post is part of a study into the meaning that elections hold for the electorate that is currently being conducted during the state-level Vidhan Sabha elections in the state of Gujarat. The principal investigator of this project, ‘Panchayat and Vidhan Sabha elections 2012-2015′, is LSE’s Dr Mukulika Banerjee (part of the European Research Network Programme: Explaining Electoral Change in Rural and Urban India). This post first appeared on Governance Now.
It’s a matter of hours now for the election on December 13, but the major political parties are yet to come to this village in Mahuva. Barring a small community meeting held by Sadbhavna Manch candidate Bharat Thakar and another by Anirudh Jadeja, a Gujarat Lok Samiti member and Sadbhavna Manch supporter, there has been nothing.
Therefore, speculating on the date of the next big rally by the local favourite since the ‘battle’ against the proposed factory by Nirma, Sadbhavna Manch chief Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria, has become the favourite pastime for the villagers.
The rally was to be held in one of the five constituencies from where Sadbhavna candidates are contesting. “It will be held soon but we don’t know when,” says Bharat Shiyal, the village sarpanch.
But the fog of doubt soon cleared with word reaching the village that Kalsaria will hold the rally on December 8 in Gariadhar, from where he was himself contesting. And he wants the entire village to attend the rally, locals said, excitedly. Two trucks, locally known as ‘khatara’, are hired to take the villagers to Gariadhar. On the eve of the rally there is feverish excitement in the village.
Gariadhar is a small town in Bhavnagar district. It is a new assembly segment carved out of Mahuva (after the delimitation exercise). Historically, this area has been a BJP stronghold since 1995. The party has nominated the four time MLA from Sihor (this constituency has been eliminated) Keshubhai Nankaria as their official candidate. Being a patel, Nankaria has some pockets of influence here. Kanubhai, the three time MLA from Mahuva (on BJP ticket) chose to contest the elections from here as more than 60 villages from Mahuva went to Gariadhar in the delimitation exercise.
The town seems very much like Mahuva. Albeit smaller in size, it has congested roads with shops on the ground floor and residences on the upper floors. Most of the shops boast BJP flags which stand stuck in their corners. Posters with BJP candidate Keshubhai on one side and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on the other side are plastered all over the town and amidst the saffron overdose, there are a few posters of Sadbhavna Manch too.
My co-passengers Yamji, Kanji, Dhanji, have grabbed a Sadbhavna flag each with white party scarves to go around their necks. I spot women from Dugheri too. Kadvi Ben, a 50-year-old woman from the village amongst many others has a ‘ghada’ (an earthen pot, the party symbol of Sadbhavna) on their heads. They will be a walking advertisement for the party. What a brilliant campaign strategy!
The rally starts at about 4pm. “We will go around town in a single file with Kanubhai in front. The supporters will follow him with Sadbhavna flags and banners in their hands,” shared a party worker. As the procession moves around town, people line the streets to check out for themselves the new party and its candidate. Kanubhai the party candidate moves from shop to shop shaking hands with the shop-owners.
The queue behind Kanubhai extends up to a kilometer. Walking in a single file his supporters shout slogans like ‘Hamara neta kaisa ho, Kanubhai jaisa ho’ and ‘Kanubhai tum aage badho, Hum tumhare saath hain’. In an hour or so after the rally had started, it seems like Sadbhavna Manch has invaded the town. While the town had heard about the philanthropic doctor MLA, they were seeing him for the first time. “I have heard a lot about him”, says Mohammad Yusuf, an owner of one of the shops here. “So will Gariadhar vote for the Samaritan doctor”, I ask him. “Well, that we’ll have to wait and watch,” Yusuf tells me with a grin.
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