The one-room office with a bed laid in a corner of the building called “Keshavniketan” in Shastripol area was Narendra Modi’s first camp in Vadodara in 1980, recalls Chandrakant Ravalia (57), who first met him in 1973 at the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) shibir in Nadiad. Modi came here as an RSS pracharak, when the city was under influence largely of the Congress, with its prominent royal scions as its parliamentarians.
The battle for Vadodara and the PMO now promises to be interesting with the Congress changing its candidate to field general secretary Madhusudan Mistry, who is also the party’s Uttar Pradesh in charge.
He replaces city unit president Narendra Ravat who had won the primaries. The other contenders are Samajwadi Party’s Kirit Prakash Yadav and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Janata Dal (U) which will also field candidates.
Vadodara parliamentary constituency, which covers a good part of the erstwhile Gaekwadi state of Baroda, is also dubbed the culture capital of Gujarat, mainly because of its former ruler Sayajirao Gaekwad III, who gave the city a distinct cosmopolitan character, world-class architecture, academic institutions and the arts.
Modi returns to Vadodara as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate to fight the Lok Sabha elections, long after the city’s political vote went to the BJP, at the hands of “Sita” literally.
In 1991, the BJP fielded Deepika Chikhalia, a political novice and television actor who became popular playing the character of “Sita” in the serial Ramayana, when the serial was at its peak popularity. She defeated Ranjitsinh Gaekwad, the late maharaja of Vadodara and sitting MP.
Considered a safe seat, the sitting BJP MLA Balkrishna Shukla won with a huge margin of over 1.5 lakh votes in 2009 LS elections. The city BJP leaders are already publicising Modi’s candidature from here as a coincidence (Varanasi and Vadodara) of the letter “V” — a sign Modi often waves for victory.
Vadodara parliamentary seat was held by the Congress — backed by the traditional popularity of Gaekwad royal scions, who fought on the party ticket beginning with the late Fatehsinhrao Gaekwad in 1957, followed by his younger brother Ranjitsinh. Briefly, Pashabhai Patel of Swatantra Party and Prakash Brahmbhatt of Janata Dal won the seat in 1967 and 1989, respectively.
But the BJP lost to the Congress in 1996, to win it back in 1998 with MP Jayaben Thakkar, who won thrice consecutively, followed by Shukla.
By 2012, the Gaekwads had started warming up to Modi and the current maharaja, Samarjitsinh, is a member of the BJP. “I was inspired by Modi to work for the RSS. I first met him in Vadodara in 1980, when he came here to work as a pracharak. He was a hard-working karyakarta, venturing out to remote regions around Vadodara to meet people. We’d go along on a rickety Vespa scooter that I owned,” said Manibhai Patel (65), who is now working as the state general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, an RSS wing.
There are 11.4 lakh voters in Vadodara Lok Sabha constituency, with 5.9 lakhs female voters and 5.4 lakhs male voters. The seven Assembly constituencies within Vadodara LS seat — Sayajigunj, Vadodara city, Akota, Raopura, Manjalpur, Savli and Waghodia — are all held by the BJP. The party also rules over city’s municipal corporation.
Waghodia area saw one of the bloodiest massacres of 2002 riots with the killing of 14 people in the Best Bakery, which was tried in Maharashtra after an indictment from the Supreme Court.
Madhu Srivastava, the Waghodia MLA, has had several run-ins with the law, including his dubious role in the Best Bakery case which surfaced in a sting operation where he details how he bribed the prime witness Zahira Sheikh who had turned hostile. Srivastava was also accused but later acquitted in a scam related to paying a packaging contractor.
Srivastava released a Gujarati movie last week, featuring him as a hero, Thakorna Kol, Jagma Anmol, which briefly landed in trouble after some activists complained that it violated the model code of conduct.