Cut-throat rivalry between 39-year-old BJP candidate Poonam Maadam and her uncle Vikram from the Congress holds centre stage in the Jamnagar, home to thirty per cent of the country’s crude-oil refining potential and dominated by patriarchal communities, like the Ahirs and Patels. The daughter of late Hemantbhai Maadam – the six-term MLA of Khambhalia who was elected as the Mayor of Jamnagar thrice – Poonam is taking Vikram Maadam, her “cousin uncle” and sitting Congress MP since 2004, head-on.
An Ahir herself, Poonam currently travels across the length and breadth of Jamnagar, portraying herself as a “daughter from an OBC community” who has taken up the mantle to develop the constituency where 30 per cent of 14 lakh voters live in rural areas.
She follows her uncle’s footsteps to the Ahir-dominated villages that have already been visited by him. Her attempt has been to impress upon the electorate to cast their votes for Modi who, according to her, will be a sure shot winner in this Lok Sabha polls. “I have come for the first time to your village. You have been voting for a particular candidate all these years. But this time, you all know which way the wind is blowing. So, I appeal to you to cast your votes for a daughter from your community and make her the first woman MP from this region,” says Poonam, asking community members in Kabdal village near Jam Jodhpur to vote for the BJP.
“(Narendra) Modiji has intricate knowlege of Gujarat and about Jamnagar. You have seen him function. On the contrary, Prime Minister Manmohan Singhji won’t even know where Jamnagar is on the map of India,” she tells members of Ahir community, who form a 1.75 lakh voter base, the third largest group in the constituency after Patels (2.5 lakh) and Muslims (2.2 lakh). This is for the first time in the recent past that the BJP has given a ticket to a member from Ahir community. Previously, the saffron party always chose a representative from the dominant Patel community.
When asked about her strategy to visit villages that have been recently visited by her uncle, who is battling anti-incumbency, Poonam told The Indian Express, “It is a conscious strategy to tell the voters whom to vote this time. Congress has done nothing for the constituency though it held power for 10 years.” Poonam, with her cavalcade of SUVs, moves around from village to village, telling voters that she is the ideal messenger to “take their voices and opinions to Delhi”.
Currently, the BJP controls five of the seven Assembly constituencies in the region. Both Ahir and Patel votes are considered to be the lifeline for the BJP whose vote share has dipped from 47 per cent in 2004 to 43 per cent in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Though an Ahir leader from the BJP (who wished to remain anonymous) felt that 55 per cent of the community will vote for Congress candidate Vikram Maadam, local BJP leaders hope to woo both these communities and also expect Muslims, who form 15.5 percent of the total electorate, to vote for the party.
“The Congress is in for a major shock this election as far as the minorities of Jamnagar are concerned,” says Poonam, who hopes to replicate and spread the party’s recent success in the port town of Salaya (dominated by Muslims and notorious for smuggling activities in the past) in Jamnagar where it managed to win all the 27 seats in the municipality.
Jamnagar, which has the highest number of candidates in the fray (25) and the highest number of independents (18), also has 11 Muslim candidates who are expected to eat into the Congress votes. “We have built RCC roads, laid drainage lines, provided drinking water system to this town,” says Poonam during her whistle-stop tours to villages.
Poonam, who quit the Congress and joined the BJP in November 2012 and was subsequently elected as an MLA from Khambaliya in the December 2012 Assembly elections, also tries to overcome her lack of experience during her speeches. “In just one-and-a-half-years of my term as an MLA, I have managed to initiate 70 per cent of the works I promised. I have been getting all the help for my constituency without really asking for it,” Poonam tells the gatherings at Nandana, Kadbal, Bhupad Ambardi and others in the region.
In her attempt to convince voters, she also brings in her political lineage. “You have all known my grand-father and father. I too inherit the same blood. The only difference is that I am a woman…. your daughter,” Poonam tells a gathering at Bhupad Ambardi village.