WITH JUST hours left for campaigning for Jasdan Assembly bypoll to come to an end, Congress candidate Avsar Nakia goes on a whirlwind tour of almost his entire constituency, pitching himself to villagers as someone who is one of them and not a “saheb”, a word commonly used in the constituency for his BJP rival and former Congress MLA Kunvarji Bavaliya due to his background as a high-school teacher.
At Ramoliya village, a small group of residents, including village sarpanch Ravji Makwana, greets Nakia and his small convoy. “All sitting here are committed to the Congress and will vote for you. But we wanted you to visit this village, so that people can know you by face. Now, please don’t forget them,” the sarpanch says.
Nakia relies briefly. “It is possible I may not be able to know each one of you by face as I am meeting people of 103 villages. Pan tamare mane phone kari devano athva rubru avi ne kahevanu ke tu tedi mat leva Ramoliya noto avyo. Tamare mane tu j kahevanu. Apne sahib, baheb nahi (But you may please call me or come in person and remind me that I had come to Ramoliya to seek votes. You can always address me as “you.” I don’t want to be sir),” Nakia says to a round of clap.
Jasdan seat is overwhelmingly dominated by voters of Koli community and Bavaliya has maintained a stranglehold over the constituency since 1995.
At Nakia’s next stop, Pipardi, one Vijay Shekh tells him on his face but with a broad smile, “Aa vakhte mat nahi apiye (This time round we shall not vote for you).”
Nakia keeps brimming. “Ek var sahkar appo. Tamara padoshi na thodu rakho (Please vote for me one more time. At least think of the fact that I am your neighbour),” he says while laughing heartily, referring to his neighbouring Asalpar village. “But didn’t we all vote for you at the district panchayat election and helped you win?” Shekh, who runs a diamond polishing unit, employing around 40 persons, continues.
“I acknowledge that. But do think about voting for me one more time,” Nakia replies before leaving smilingly.
The villagers say they would vote for Bavaliya. “We vote for the candidate and not any political party. You may notice that we are not wearing scarf of any political party around our necks. We appreciate that both Bavaliya and Nakia are Kolis. But Bavaliya is much senior to Nakia and therefore, we have to support him,” says 58-year-old Rugnath Sankaliya.
But Nakia says he is confident of getting some support. “At least 50 per cent of the villagers in Pipardi will vote for me,” he says.
At Boghravadar village, Nakia and Congress MLA from Mangrol, Babu Vaja are welcomed with beating of drums and a small group assembles at a temple in the village. “With Lord Ram bearing witness, I promise I would not cheat you the way Bavaliya has done. I will always be there for you,” he says, and villagers gives a huge round of applause.
While visiting area of a Vaghari community, Nakia is confronted by one Dinesh Mithapara. “We voted for the Congress and what have we got. The government is not even allotting us residential plots,” he complains. Nakia quietly sits down beside Mithapara. “I know there are issues and that is why we are here. I promise to look into your demands. I am as poor as you are and therefore can fully understand your problems. Like you, I don’t own an inch of land,” Nakia says.
In the evening, Nakia addresses a rally at Shivrajpur village and launches a scathing attack on Bavaliya. “This election is not for me nor for you. It is for Bavaliya. We all had voted for him and helped him win for five years. But he cheated us all and changed party for his selfish ends. He has brought this election upon us,” he thunders.