You are the sitting MLA from Rajkot East. Why are contesting from Rajkot West?
When I entered the assembly, I found that the most inappropriate person was occupying the highest seat. So, it is my top priority to stop this person. This is the reason I am fighting against him.
So, you consider this an adventure?
Entering politics itself is an adventure for me.
Why do you say CM Vijay Rupani is inappropriate for the top job?
After he became chairman [of the Rajkot Municipal Corporation standing committee], he started organised corruption… Rupani also created a culture of hooliganism in Saurasthra.
Can you cite examples of that?
Gondal, Porbandar, Kodinar. Only Purushottam Solanki of Bhavnagar has not been raised by him. But he [Rupani] has promoted people like them. Courts have convicted them and sentenced them. Rupani said recently that cities and districts of Gujarat used to be known after names of goons when the Congress was in power. He has named Santokben Jadeja of Porbandar…He could have said that the Congress was supporting Santokben in those times. But I had told them on the floor of the House that they had no right to talk on that subject. She is no more and those who had supported her are not around either. We also paid the price for it and we are no longer in power… But you [BJP] have given seats to all of them here in the assembly, and made them ministers. Who is Babu Bokhiria of Porbandar? He is today’s Santokben but you have made him a minister.
Whom do you think Patidars of your constituency will vote for?
They will certainly vote for me, kyunki mere saath banti hain (because the community is on good terms with me) and also because they are not on good terms with Vijaybhai.
On what basis do you make that claim?
I have worked for them, I stand by them whenever required and I support the truth. Not only Patidars, I take up the cause of any community. And I also declare in public meetings that I am a Brahmin and a Hindu by birth but I have no caste, no creed.
Have you assessed the community profile of your seat?
Patidars and Brahmins are major communities, approximately 65,000 and 35,000 votes respectively [out of 3.17 lakh]. Dalits and Muslims hold 25,000 and 22,000 votes respectively. In my assessment, the Patidars will prove decisive. They will vote for me. So will Brahmins, Dalits, Muslims, Sindhis, Bharwads and Baniyas who have 18,000 votes, and OBCs.
But Patidars have traditionally voted for the BJP.
They will vote for me this time round. Since I was not contesting from this constituency, they used to vote for somebody else. But they are with me this election.
The CM’s wife, Anjali Rupani, comes from a Brahmin family and has campaigned for him. Don’t you think Brahmin votes can go Rupani too?
Certainly not, because it is not enough merely to say that. One should also have some work to show. For the last 10 years, I have been running an organisation that is working for Brahmins. It is the best organisation working for Brahmins. It is natural that they will vote for me.
When the election is fought around Narendra Modi, won’t that override caste issues?
That is true for rest of the country but not for Gujarat, because Gujarat has seen him long enough. Earlier, he used to argue that the central government was hampering him. Who will he blame now?
Many people in other states — Uttar Pradesh, for example — did not know who the local candidates were but still elected the BJP to power; they voted more for Modi.
Agreed, but he was new for those states. For us, he has been around since 2002. People here know him now. People of those states are yet to become aware. He also brags, khata nahin hu, khane deta nahi hun (I don’t indulge in corruption, nor do I allow anyone else to). This will ring with people outside Gujarat, not here. In Gujarat, actually, corruption has increased in the last 12 years. Khana aur khilana sab badha hain (corruption has increased).
Modi says he brought drinking water from the Narmada to Rajkot. Can you deny that?
He had promised in 2002 that Rajkot will have abundance of water. After 14 years, a period as long as Ram ka vanvaas, a pipeline has finally been laid. Secondly, you might have brought water now but you must remember that the Aji Dam was built during Congress rule. They [BJP] have not built any new dam in the last 22 years.
Gujarati voters are said to put a lot of thought into their vote. What if their thought is that electing the Congress might mean that the state will not get funds from the Centre?
If that were true, people would not have voted for Modi in the last assembly election either. Then, they had released advertisements showing a person getting slapped when he asked about central funds. The Congress was in power at the Centre but people of Gujarat stood by Modi. Had they been greedy, they could have voted for the Congress hoping for central funds.
You had been pitching yourself as the Congress candidate for Rajkot West for more than a year. Had the party told you to prepare, or was it your choice?
When I received a message on phone that Vijaybhai was going to become CM, I decided the very moment that I will fight from this seat. The next day, I went to Ahmedabad to attend a Congress core committee meeting. I demanded that I should be made candidate for this seat, and the committee agreed.
Wouldn’t Rajkot East, where you are MLA, have been a safer seat?
I didn’t think what will be safe and what will be unsafe for me when I decided to fight. I thought more about what I should do. A few questions did spring to mind. But then, I thought what difference does it make if I don’t remain an MLA for five years while trying to do what is necessary? I knew there is a risk but there are also some calculations here.
Having declared assets worth Rs141 crore, you are the richest candidate. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?
People know me more as a political leader and less as a rich man. I had declared 121 crore in the last election too. There is no advantage here. In fact, I quit business five years ago. I realised that I won’t be able to become a Mukesh Ambani. I thought of serving the society as it gives more satisfaction; hence I entered politics.
The BJP makes an issue out of the licence you hold for alcohol consumption.
I am not answerable to the BJP on this issue. They have no business entering my personal life. And more importantly, am I doing anything illegal? I have a permit, and as long as I am not doing anything illegal, nobody should have any objection. I don’t bother the public with that. On the other hand, Vijaybhai pure Gujarat ko daru pilatey hain (Vijaybhai offers liquor to entire Gujarat). He lives within 1 km from here. One can come here in the evening and can get as much liquor as one wants. In what part of Gujarat is liquor not available? Who says there is something like prohibition?
What will be your stance on prohibition if you win and if the Congress forms the government?
We will continue with the prohibition law and stop the flow of liquor. My concern is, and I am very touchy about it, that the liquor that is bootlegged is not drinkable. Those consuming such liquor die at age 42 or 45 and leave widows behind. Bootlegging must end. I started leading public raids on bootleggers and for one-and-a-half months, and with the help of police, the flow of liquor dried up in Rajkot. But how long could I continue? The flow resumed.
Do you demand funds from the Congress for contesting?
No, not at all. Nor do I give my party any funds. I have never demanded a single rupee even from my partners, because my hands should not be dirty when I hold the pen of power. I won’t demand proof but if any BJP leader looks into my eyes and cites any example of my having misused power, demanded funds from anybody or having indulged in corruption, I will not only quit politics but also leave Rajkot.