Babu Bokhiria,60,owes his political success to the money and muscle power he enjoys in Porbandar,which was a Congress stronghold until his emergence in the 1990s.
Gujarats water supply and agriculture minister has been sentenced to jail in a Rs-54-crore illegal mining case,with the Porbandar chief judicial magistrates court giving him seven days starting Saturday. He has also faced charges in a murder case.
Bokhiria,who has a weakness for white sneakers,belongs to the Mehr community,one of Porbandars dominant ones,and runs a strong business network engaged in transportation of limestone in a district where the mineral and its mining frequently lead to battles between politically connected gangs.
He was district BJP president in 1995 when he defeated strongman Sharad Lakhani to end a decades-long run of the Congress. He won again in 1998 and became water supply minister in the Keshubhai Patel government. He lost to Arjun Modhwadia in 2002,could not contest in 2007 because he had been externed on account of the illegal mining case,and returned in 2012.
His troubles coincided with the decade between his defeat and return. In 2006,Saurashtra Chemicals Limited,which runs a cement factory in Porbandar,accused him of illegal mining on land it has a lease on. The company alleged that Bokhiria,former Congress MP Bharat Odedara and gangsters Bhima and Laxman Odedara,father and son,had illegally mined limestone worth Rs 54 crore from Jinjarkha village near Porbandar town. Bhima and Laxman are related to Bokhiriyas wife while the former MP is the father-in-law of Bokhiriyas son. While Bohirias business involves mainly the transportation of limestone,the co-accused are engaged in mining it.
At one stage,Bokhiria fled to the UK to evade arrest,but he eventually surrendered after the Supreme Court rejected an anticipatory bail petition. He was released after five months in jail but externed from Porbandar,which led to his absence in the 2007 elections.
The charges in the murder case came in 2008. Congress leader Mulu Modhwadia had been killed on November 16,2005,and the police had arrested Bhima,Laxman and 10 others and filed a chargesheet in 2006. Bokhiria was made a co-accused on March 12,2008,following an application by Mulu Modhwadias son that a note found with the body had described a threat faced from Bokhiria. The BJP leader approached the Gujarat High Court and then the Supreme Court,which in January ordered a stay on the trial against him.
In 2012,when the ban on Bokhiria from entering Porbandar was lifted,the BJP brought back Bokhiria,who defeated Arjun Modhwadia again and was taken back into the cabinet.
Nothing will happen, says Bokhiria of the sentence. I will appeal for a stay against my arrest in a higher court. The case against me is weak.
The Odedaras and Bokhirias together hold half a dozen political posts in bodies from gram panchayats to the Porbandar nagarpalika. The Odedaras face a number of murder and murder attempt charges.
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