At Vankatimba village, a 45-minute drive from the state’s famous Shamlaji temple, a group of people including women and children have gathered to listen to “their own candidate” for Bhiloda constituency in Aravalli district.
P C Baranda, 58, of the BJP, clad in a navy blue kurta, a waistcoat, white pyjamas and a saffron scarf with a white lotus printed on it, sits impassively as he is introduced in his home village.
“This candidate is our man and has come back for you, to make your lives better. He was an SP,” Ajay Kharadi, who is part of Baranda’s poll team, tells the crowd. “In any district, there are only three important people — the collector, the SP and the DDO. An SP would have a pilot and would be escorted by at least 4,000 policemen. Yet, he has left everything and come back for all of us. Some in the Congress are spreading lies that being a former policeman, he will rule with a lathi,” Kharadi adds.
Baranda joined Gujarat police as an assistant commissioner of police and was promoted to the IPS cadre in 2007. He took voluntary retirement on November 15 this year, two years before retirement, and days later was handed the BJP ticket to Bhiloda, a seat reserved for schedule tribes.
Baranda is pitted against the Congress’s Anil Joshiyara, who hasn’t lost an election here since 2002. Joshiyara, a doctor of the Dungari Garasiya tribe, defeated the BJP candidate by over 30,000 votes (17% of the turnout) in 2012, the first poll after the seat was reserved. Apart from tribals, Bhiloda is dominated by OBCs.
At Baranda’s village, several speakers emphasise how he left his “elite job” to work with his people. When it is Baranda’s turn to speak, he is quiet and barely audible at times, a standout in this campaign of loud speeches.
“You are all tired of voting for the same person for the last 15 years. But this year, fate has changed. Lots of work needs to be done in the region. We should have several educational institutes for our children such as ITIs, industries, a good college, better bus service among others. I think if we want to get this region on the path of development, we need to join the government which is the BJP government,” he says, never once mentioning his police background.
It is a running theme for the next nearly four hours, where he repeats his speech in the villages of Kanthariya, Ambrada, Lakshmanpura, Dehgamra and Lusadiya Baranda. It is left for those accompanying him, such as Kharadi, to remind villagers of his IPS background.
His election team also distributes pamphlets which read, “Punamchand Chanabhai Baranda, retired IPS…I was born on 1/6/1959 in a Hindu Dungari Garasia (tribe) family. My primary education was from Vankatimba, middle schooling from Modasa and higher education from Modasa Arts College and after completing D.P.Ed (Diploma in Physical Education), I got a law degree… I served as a teacher in English medium became DySP in Gujarat government. In 2007 I was nominated for IPS and served Chhoota Udepur as its DSP.” The pamphlets also state that his wife Chandrikaben is also from here — Chorimala village in Bhiloda — and that she retired as a deputy collector.
At every turn, Baranda sticks to his development message and his local connection. “I seek votes in the name of development. I am your own person and one hundred per cent local. Don’t you want ghar ka umedwar?” he asks a gathering at Lakshmanpura village. “I wish to make the name of my village as popular as our Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Vadnagar (PM’s hometown). I want the whole world to visit our region and that is why I am here.”
At Dehgamra village, where about 50 people mostly youngsters are gathered, he calls for change.
“I am your neighbour and I will be here all the time to help you. Irrespective of your preferred party be it BJP or the Congress, this time you vote for change.”