Over 1,650 voters at Kholadiyad village in Wadhwan taluka of Surendranagar district used their right to vote in a gram panchayat election after two decades on Tuesday. For the last 20 years after 1996 — spanning four terms of the village panchayat — the villagers chose the ‘samras’ way, choosing their sarpanch and the panchayat members unanimously. Samras (the system in which the representatives are elected unopposed) was introduced by the first BJP government led by Keshubhai Patel in Gujarat. Kholadiyad is a village adopted by Wadhwan MP Shankerbhai Vegad under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, for the last two years.
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On Tuesday, standing in a queue at the Tejendra Prasad Vidyalaya polling station, were two candidates — Kanjibhai (52) and Ghansyambhai Padhariya (45), who claimed they were Rajputs and distant relatives, but were contesting against each other.
Kanjibhai, however, adds, “Earlier, there was one group (BJP) in the village which has now split into two — BJP and Congress.”
For the Kholadiya gram panchayat, both Ghanshaymbhai and Kanjibhai are more than contesting elections against each other. Since 2001-2011, for two terms, it was Ghanshyambhai’s elder brother who was unanimously chosen as the village sarpanch, which was followed by Kanjibhai’s wife, Valiben, who was the villagers’ choice as sarpanch and headed the entire gram panchayat with eight women members.
The village with majority Patel and Rajput communities — followed by Thakur, Koli Patel and Bharwad (the shepherd community) — has only one government primary school and one private secondary school. Pleading anonymity, villagers say that the lack of development that was expected after being adopted by the MP, was one of the reasons for the village breaking its 20-year-old legacy.
The younger lot is said to be opposing the move for samras gram panchayat. “Despite having been adopted for two years by the MP, there was not much development. Then what is the point sticking to the party or the tradition if it is not in public good,” says a villager in his 20s, without disclosing his identity. “I am here to vote for the development of the village,” says 78-year-old Bhagwan Dumaniya, awaiting his turn in the queue.
However, a few villagers still claimed that samras gram panchayat was a better option. “Samras, which represents unity and harmony, was better for the village. Now, there are two groups — one for and the other against,” says Nainaben Padhariya (40), who was accompanied by Jadiben Adalja (75), mother of two sons, both of whom are working in Surat diamond factories.
“We have seen peace prevailing in this village with no election for so many years, but this time it is different,” says Jadiben, who along with her husband Dayabhai, looks after their land in the village. With the majority of villagers into farming, they either own land or work as labourers for others.
Ramjibhai Gohil, Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Wadhwan chairman for the last 17 years, belongs to the same village. He was a three-time sarpanch from 1978-95. He says he is sad that the village opted out of samras this time. “In any case, whatever the result would be, we will work for the development of the village,” said Ramjibhai Gohil, who was monitoring the elections at the polling booth.