It is not going to be a cakewalk for sitting BJP MP Haribhai P Chaudhary, who cruised his way to a victory during June 2013 by-election.
Chaudhary, who is banking heavily on his community’s vote bank, is expected to see a divisive element at work among the voters, as his Congress opponent for the Lok Sabha election Joitabhai Patel also hails from the same community.
Haribhai is in no position to tell voters that they should not vote for the Congress candidate, since that could antagonise them and the move would then go against him.
However, he does try to convince the voters that he is the superior candidate, between him and his rival Joitabhai. In the village-level meetings, he keeps telling the voters to choose the “better of the two Chaudhary candidates”.
He even draws comparisons, some of which are rather bizarre. “He is above 80, while I am much younger at 58; I am more handsome and good-looking, more presentable than him. Moreover, he has studied only till Class VIII and does not know English or Hindi beyond a few words. His influence is also limited, being only till Dhanera of which he is an MLA.”
Besides these personal comparisons, he also uses Narendra Modi’s reference, when he says, “by voting for me, you will be paving way for Narendrabhai to reach the prime minister’s throne”.
Ironically, he draws a blank when he asks the crowd if they want to see Modi as the Prime Minister. This gets him worked up, leading to senior party workers having to prompt people to say “Haaa (yes)”.
At Vansda village near Deesa, he promises voters to get a new road constructed for them. “The Chaudharys should be proud of getting the chance of a lifetime to elect Narendrbhai — a Gujarati — as the prime minister of this country,” he tells people at the poorly-attended meetings.
In Dhuva village near Juna Deesa, he said, “I have heard the Shahi Imam of Delhi has issued a fatwa on Muslims to ensure hundred per cent vote for the Congress. This requires us to ensure hundred per cent vote for Narendrabhai.”
The one thing that went in his favour is his ability to build instant rapport with the audiences (at places consisting more of children than elders), putting them at ease, talking of their immediate problems and posing with children.
Mohanlal Solanki, elected sarpanch of Vansda village near Deesa, said his village of 1,500 population had voted 85 per cent for Chaudhary as the choice was clear: OBC against Chaudhary. “But now the community is confused about whom to choose,” he said.
Most of the audience seemed shy to sport a saffron scarf in the open during the group meeting, which party workers sought to play down. Interestingly, he appealed to people to help win the neighbouring Patan seat candidate Liladhar Vaghela “so that you will get two BJP MPs from Banaskantha district (part of Patan seat falls in this district).