WARD 11, RAJKOT
IT’S 9 PM and a half-a-dozen women are standing in front of the gate of Shree Rajeshwar Mahadev temple in Rajdeep Society of Mavadi area of the city. They are whispering to one another as to whether they should go inside and join around three dozen men sitting in the front yard of the temple. Eventually, they make up their mind and go inside the temple to attend the election meeting of BJP.
The women sit near a peepal tree, at some distance from the men. There is complete silence at the venue. Majority of men, sitting on mat, have their heads down. A few others chat in smaller groups.
Bhikha Vasoya and Raju Boricha, the BJP candidates for Ward No.11 of the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) are on their phones. As the crowd builds up, Boricha explains role of corporators. “Let me explain to you who corporators are. MPs and MLAs are like our elders who advise us. But corporators are like domestic help who go buy grocery for us. We can help you in small works even like getting a PAN card.” he says.
But he reminds the crowd of a “mistake”. “In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, many good people did not come out and only a small number of them cast their votes. But those who sell their votes turned up in big numbers. Therefore, Kunvarji Bavaliya of Congress won. But, he did not place a single bench in the area during his five-year tenure. Today, he is president of Rajkot city unit of Congress and says that they will snatch power. All the 72 candidates of the BJP gathered at one spot and took oath of developing Rajkot as a smart city and forsake personal gains while doing so. But not even four Congress candidates could go file their nomination papers together. How will they work in tandem for development of the city?” he asks.
Vasoya, who is also president of the Rajkot city unit of BJP, enlists his achievements and talks about plans to flyovers at Mavadi and Nana Mava crossroads to east traffic and a swimming pool near Dholakia school.
“So development is our mantra”, he says.
Vasoya also reiterates parts of manifesto of his party which promises no water cut for the next 10 years. Meanwhile, Lilu Jadav and Anita Paghdar, the remaining two BJP candidates also reach the venue at take their seat.
In the middle of Vasoya’s speech, three youths start distributing pamphlets which portray the Patidar agitation as handiwork of Congress and also criticise agitation leaders for aligning with Congress after announcing that their’s was an apolitical protest. Milan Visapara, a Class-VIII student is one of the volunteers who is distributing the pamphlets. “I don’t know any political leaders present here. Mukesh Giri, the pujari of the temple assigned me this work and I am volunteering,” says the student.
But neither he nor Boricha mentions the Patidar stir before a gathering which overwhelmingly dominated by the Patels.
As Vasoya nears end of his speech, another set of volunteers start distributing cups of ice-cream among the crowd. Soon after completing his speech, Vasoya, Paghdar and Jadav head towards a car parked near the tree. But he is confronted by Beena Vekariya (25), a resident of Rajdeep Society-4. “When have you supplied enough water? And there is hardly any pressure in the supply! And some times you supply water at midnight!”
Vasoya looks taken aback. As the women candidates wave at the women, another homemaker, Manjula Hirapara tells him, “Our area witnesses water logging during monsoon and there is no proper garbage collection” . Vekariya and Hirapara are Patidar women.
Vasoya rushes out, signaling his women colleagues. As they leave the temple premises, men swarmed a utility vehicle parked under a tree loaded with ice cream. For about half and hour, they jostle, pushed and nudged one another to get more helps of the ice cream.
“One cannot lie after eating one’s food. There is anger among Patidars as police went inside homes and beat up innocents. And what did they mean when they said, “Police will do their duty? But since they are feeding people, the atmosphere looks good for the BJP right now. But who knows what can happen inside polling station?” says Dinesh Jatakia, a factory owner.
Mavadi area is dominated by the Patidars. The area had seen worst violence in the city in August this year after police lathicharged a Patidar rally in Ahmedabad. Keeping the caste math in mind, the ruling party has fielded two Patidars –Vasoya and Paghdar. Boricha belongs to Ahir community while Jadav comes from Kadiya community recognised as OBC.
Bhushan Bhatt, BJP MLA from Khadia-Jamalpur assembly constituency, campaigns for BJP candidates in the Muslim-dominated ward of Jamalpur which is a part of his constituency. Pitching himself as a Brahmin, he tells people of the Jamalpur ward to “give votes in alms to this Brahmin”, while addressing a public meeting near Jaishankar Sundari Hall Wednesday night. He was the sole speaker in front of a mostly Dalit crowd, The four candidates, including a Muslim, did not utter a word at the meeting nor were they introduced properly. Bhatt himself is a corporator representing the neighbouring Khadia ward, which is a BJP bastion.
Jamalpur has been represented by Congress, but this time Congress candidates are all first timers.
The venue was near Opera Guest House behind Jaishankar Sundari Hall on the road side, located on ‘border’ in communally sensitive area of Raikhad. The Muslim candidate, Rauf Shaikh (Bengali), a novice, looked nervous seeing the thin crowd, which later swelled.
Bhatt, a Class XII graduate, glided the audience through the history of India 1947 onwards while tearing into Congress regime that did nothing but “created divisions in the country at all levels and ruled the country”. “In 1985 the Congress said, ‘you give us votes, we will open mill gates, but more mills closed,” he said while pointing to nearby Prasad Mills. The he came to 2012 when Congress promised housing the people and got tonnes of application forms filled. “Honorable madam Soniaji dedicated to people beautiful model of a house in Congress office here”, he said adding sarcastically, “where was land? were they to build houses on Mars?” The audience cheered.
Son of one of BJP’s most popular leaders and former Speaker the late Ashok Bhatt, Bhushan mentioned the communal harmony of Vasant-Rajab whom the “Congress did not care to remember them for all these years, until Chief Minister Anandiben Patel got built a memorial for them”. “We are not here to seek votes, jo vote de uss ka bhala aur na de uss ka bhi bhala, ham to bas logon me pyar dua aur mohabbat chahte hain, (May good happen to those who vote and those who don’t. we are just here for people’s love),” he said.
Of the city’s development, he mentioned the four bridges touching Jamalpur ward and the development of the river front but not without criticising the Congress of how it created obstacles “but without success’. Mocking the Congress symbol, he said, it was not clear if it was the right hand or left hand. “Whatever be the case, you know very well the right hand is used for slapping somebody and left hand is used for….” he left the sentence incomplete amid lusty cheers.
He also mentioned the power of Raikhad in ensuring win for all BJP candidates by use of social media which replaced postcards as communication link. “It is an area which helped my father Ashok Bhatt win since 1975 till 2010 in Assembly elections…we are a family which does not discriminate, and delimitation has only made our relations only stronger,” Bhatt explained indirectly why the BJP fielded Rauf Bengali as its candidate. Only hitch in this being, Rauf does not belong to Chhipa community which has majority in 70,000 strong Muslim voters out of total 88,000 voters.
“From here, we are moving to create history of breaking Congress dominance for ever in this ward this time,” Bhatt declared. But how far will this be from reality depends on popularity of Imarn Khedawala, former Congress councillor, who is contesting this time as an Independent candidate, giving chills down the spines of candidates of ever winning Congress.
Chairman of the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) Bhupendra Patel got exactly seven minutes to make his point at the BJP’s night meeting at a party plot that recorded a good turnout, which could not wait any longer for the dinner that followed.
In the presence of all four BJP candidates along with a couple of Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) state leaders, Patel started his speech with the food arrangements made for the voters at the meeting and ended within 7 minutes stressing only on the Kankaria lake front and Sabarmati Riverfront development projects.
The crowd did not even wait for his address to conclude and left their chairs to rush towards the food arranged at the other end of the party plot.
After condolence to VHP leader Ashok Singhal and wishing New Year greetings, Patel started by saying that he knows everybody is eager to eat and is waiting to start before anybody speaks. “Also, it is winter and already 9 pm. Once it starts to dew, nobody would be seen sitting here. You might be thinking why stand in a queue for dinner, better to get there first. But I should tell you that the dinner arrangements are very good. Please stand peacefully in a queue for ten minutes everybody would get his share. First let the women eat,” he stressed on the food arrangements already anticipating the eagerness among the gathering to have dinner.
The food talk was followed by BJP’s development plank. “Now that the dinner arrangements are clear let me tell you that every time we vote for BJP we have many reasons. Development being at the top and I assure that further development would be done in the future as well. For instance, everybody is troubled with traffic chaos. For this, from 2010 to 2015 during BJP’s corporation rule, 17 overbridges were constructed and three are under construction. Also, the ring road has been developed. All this cannot be done without a political will,” he said.
Mentioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi twice in his seven minute speech and referring to Chief Minister Anandiben Patel once as Gatisheel Gujarat’s women CM, Patel said, “BJP either led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Gatisheel Gujarat’s woman chief minister Anandi Patel, development has been and will be the agenda. It is the political will of BJP and Narendrabhai that has provided pukka houses to all rehabilitated slum dwellers and developed the riverfront,” he said.
Thaltej ward that has residence of several political leaders and AMC officials witnessed major development in real estate as number of commercial and residential projects were developed in last two-three years. Also, two multi-speciality private hospitals have come up at a distance of 500 metre in last one year. Recently, the AMC’s sub zonal office was inaugurated by the mayor last month.
Apart from Thaltej, the ward has three villages that have come under municipal corporation limits-Bhadaj, Shilaj and Hebatpur. The basic requirements of these villages being water, sewage, electricity and roads. But there would be another time for these issues.