“I am 110 per cent sure that the BJP will win this bye-election. I have always voted for the BJP, and therefore never voted for Bavaliya when he was with the Congress. But now that he is a BJP candidate, I shall vote for him,” says 38-year-old Satish Rathod, a blacksmith, as he waves to Kunvarji Bavaliya who passes by his home in a Jasdan town neighbourhood during a door-to-door campaign.
With just couple of days left for campaigning, Water Supply Minister Bavaliya has been hitting the streets of Jasdan, his pocket borough, which has elected him to the Gujarat Assembly five times.
Wearing a saffron scarf with lotus symbols, and accompanied by an array of BJP leaders — state BJP chief Jitu Vaghani, Minister of State for Education Vibhavari Dave, Gujarat Municipal Finance Board chairman Dhansukh Bhanderi, BJP’s Rajkot city unit president Kamlesh Mirani and secretary of Rajkot district unit of BJP and his one-time arch political opponent Bharat Boghra — Bavaliya waves to people as he walks the lanes and streets of the town with a DJ blaring music in tow.
The bypoll has been warranted after Bavaliya, a five-time Congress MLA from the seat, quit the Congress this July. Hours after he joined the ruling BJP, he was sworn-in as a minister.
“I am a supporter of Boghra. Since Boghra is supporting Bavaliya now, I shall vote for the BJP this election,” says 30-year-old Yogesh Dholariya who owns an electrical appliances shop. “City roads have been an issue for the town for years. Now, that Bavaliya is also with the BJP and a Minister, we hope the issues of this town will be solved,” he adds.
All along, 63-year-old Bavaliya breezes through streets and other BJP leaders and workers, especially women workers, struggle to keep pace with him. Bavaliya, who is seeking a sixth term from the constituency, and his first as a BJP candidate, rarely stops. Many in the town say that they are seeing Bavaliya in a new avatar. During his almost three-decade long association with the Congress, he would walk streets of the town but without long train of supporters and loud music. Garlands would be rare. In all his five victories as Congress candidate, he never managed to secure majority votes from Jasdan town that has 35,000 votes. He always came second after the BJP candidate among urban Jasdan voters.
Observing that a few elderly Muslim men are sitting outside a shop, Bavaliya makes a rare halt and shakes hands with one 74-year-old Abdul Parmar. “Dhyan rakhjo (Do remember me),” he tells in his customary mild and low voice. “Haan.. dhan ma jo cho (Yes, we very much remember you),” Abdul, who used to drive private buses, replies.
“He is a gem of a person and we used to treat him like out brother till the time he was with the Congress. But now, we cannot support him. We have to vote for the Congress due to ideological reasons,” says Abdul.
Muslims dominate ward No.4 of Jasdan municipality and all the four seats in the ward are with the Congress.
In Lati Plot, two young men are curious about convoy of cars. “This is for the first time that I am seeing so many cars, whose price would be more than Rs10 lakh in Jasdan,” says one of them. The other nodded. “But whatever trick they employ, they are going to be defeated,” he adds. “I am a Patidar and no one from my community is going to vote for Bavaliya. I know what is the mood in the villages,” he says on the condition of anonymity.
But among Kolis, his caste group, support for Bavaliya remains strong. “Like him, we are Kolis, and we have to vote for him,” says Manju Khihadiya, whose husband is a diamond-polisher.