Wadhwan of Surendranagar, seat where less than an estimated 7% of the voters are Patidars, is gearing up for a battle between two well-known Patels. Dhanjibhai Patel, 70, is a candy manufacturer suddenly given the BJP ticket. The BJP selected Dhanjibhai, third richest of all candidates with Rs 112 crore declared, replacing sitting MLA Varshaben Doshi. It led to initial protests from Jain leaders before the party convinced won them over.
Congress candidate Mohanbhai Patel, 65, is chairman of the Agriculture Produce Market Committee and popular among the poor for helping them in an emergency. Dhanjibhai, a Kadva Patel, cites social work he claims to have done and promises to extend it to each village. He seeks votes in PM Narendra Modi’s name, calling the election a direct fight between Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Modi has addressed a rally in Wadhwan while Rahul called his event off Tuesday.
Mohanbhai, a Leuva Patel, stresses issues relating to farming. Various other sections have issues long pending in a seat held by the BJP for 27 years now. Mohanbhai says that though the district has the highest production of cotton, the government has done nothing for farmers, be it water supply, crop insurance or electricity that he says is erratic and runs eight hours.
“The water that came to Zalawad in the 1990s was during Chimanbhai Patel’s time as chief minister — he conceptualised the Narmada Dam project – and Sanath Mehta who was elected to Lok Sabha from Surendranagar,” Mohanbhai said. “The dam on which the largest pumping station has been developed was also due to Rasiklal Parikh who was from Limbdi and elected to Lok Sabha from Surendranagar. Now the BJP is talking about dams and water.”
R G Patel, though a Kadva Patel like Dhanjibhai, says he supports Mohanbhai. “Mohanbhai is always available and popular among farmers, the poor and the backward. Caste will hardly be a factor,” the voter said.
“As a man of the masses, Mohanbhai is the 108 for the poor and socially backward sections,” said Rajubhai Parmer, former MP and former member of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. Bopabhai Sakaria of Kholadiad village travelled 60 km to Wadhwan for Rahul’s scheduled rally, hoping to discuss his problems. “Despite Dholidhaja dam being full, farmers are not getting water and are forced to put up pumps at the canal,” he said. “We get no drinking water and only eight hours electricity, that too at night. The generic medical store is without stocks, forcing us to buy expensive medicine from the market,” said Hirabhai Vamali of Bhadiyad village.
Following Cyclone Ockhi, Hirabhai was worried about crop damage. “We are sure we will not get insurance. When it was not provided to us following the July flood, we should not expect any after this rain either.” Said Tulsibhai Bhutada, APMC vice chairman, “When Modi was CM, he announced Surendranagar would emerge the capital of an agriculture-based economic revolution. Today farmers are getting Rs 800 for their cotton, reduced from Rs 1,200, as against the Rs 1,400 he had promised.”
Shailesh Vadodara of Surendranagar Dalit Samaj said, “The government advertises schemes but when we go to the departments we are either asked to go to Ahmedabad or told the scheme does not apply to us.” Wadhwan has an estimated 11% Dalit population and had seen protests following the flogging of Dalits in Una.
Surendranagar Wadwan Urban Development Authority was created five years ago but ciizens say infrastructure is poor. “The city has moved back 10 years. Even today dust persists,” said Vikram Dave, president of Wadhwan Nagar Palika.