A small group of workers assembled at Om Saishakti Chowk, a public square near the Circuit House in Morbi at 5 pm on Sunday as two men beat drums and a DJ system mounted on an multi-utility vehicle played jingles saying Jayantilal Patel, Congress candidate from Morbi for the upcoming bypoll, would emerge victorious.
A while later, Patel, who holds a degree in commerce and has stakes in at least three ceramic tile manufacturing factories in Morbi, came in an SUV for door-to-door campaigning in Arunodaya Nagar, Relief Nagar, Rotary Nagar, Saraswati Society and Ramkrushna Society in Ward No.3 of Morbi municipality area. Jaswantsinh Bhatti, Congress leader from Rajkot, and Devendrasinh Jadeja, president of Morbi Youth Congress, joined him in the campaign. Patel, who is fighting his sixth Assembly election but first in 13 years, wore a wry smile as he waved to people.
In Saraswati Society, a woman stopped 64-year-old Patel and enthusiastically said, “Your victory is certain. Only thing you should do is to bow in front of dada now and after the results. Would you do it?” she asked. After some hesitation, Patel agreed and the woman led him to a Lord Shiva temple on the other side of the road.
In Ramkrushna Nagar, 50-year-old Prakash Lahuru, said, “I have been a Congress supporter and would vote for him this election also.” But his wife Hansa said, “See the piles of garbage there. We need someone who can get work done,” while pointing to garbage dumped in an open space.
Raiya Ladukiya, 80, was sitting outside her home when Patel passed by but couldn’t see the Congress candidate who was surrounded by supporters. “I don’t know him anyway nor do I need to. For us, Varshaben (Dhumaliya, a three-time Congress councillor from Ward No.3 of Morbi municipality) is our leader and we shall vote for the one she asks us to,” said the woman who used to be a labourer at stone crushers.
Why would she trust Dhumaliya who lost the civic election in 2015 even as the Congress managed to capture the civic body from BJP? “She has done many things for us. Whenever the drain would overflow and dirty water enters my home, she would ensure the drain gets cleaned,” Ladukiya narrates animatedly.
While the Morbi Assembly seat is dominated by Patidars, the community the Congress candidate hails from, Ward No.3 is dominated by Brahmins and Kshatriyas, traditional supporters of the BJP. After around two hours, Patel returned to the Om Saishakti Chowk. “We have to win this election… If you manage to give our party a lead of 1,000 votes (over the BJP candidate) from this ward, I will give you workers Rs 1 lakh from my own pocket. If you manage lead of 2,000 votes, the reward will be Rs 2 lakh. I declare this reward for all the 13 wards of Morbi town. This will be over and above what I will allot from my grant as an MLA,” the industrialist announced to a round of applause.
Earlier in the day, BJP candidate Brijesh Merja told villagers that Patel would go back to his home and factories once the election is over. He also told villagers that Patel was going to hit a “sixer of defeats”. The Congress veteran took these comments in his stride and said, “I have visited each of the 82 villages in Morbi constituency… Merja lives in Gandhinagar. My defeats in the past have taught me a lot… I am confident of victory this time as people believe Congress to be a better party… Merja has changed party four times. Who would trust him?”
Patel contested five consecutive Assembly polls from Morbi between 1990 and 2007 but lost all. The November 3 bypoll has been warranted due to Merja’s resignation as Congress MLA in the run up to the Rajya Sabha election in June this year and his subsequent defection to the BJP.
Mer returns to BJP
Rajkot: Former BJP MLA from Dhandhuka, Lalji Mer, on Monday returned to BJP fold after a gap of around three years. He was welcomed back by BJP president CR Paatil at an election meeting in Limdi on Monday.
Mer, a Koli, was elected MLA from Dhanduka in 2012 on a BJP ticket. He quit the saffron party in 2017 and joined the Congress. But he went against the Congress mandate in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and contested as an Independent from Surendrana-gar. Congress spokesman Manish Doshi said he was suspended from the party after he filed his nomination papers.
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