In 2017, despite the protests against the BJP government over the demand for an OBC quota, Patidar leader Vinod Moradiya had won his Katargam seat handsomely, defeating his Congress rival by nearly 80,000 votes. This time though, Moradiya, the outgoing Minister for Urban Development and Urban Housing, is a worried man.
The reason is the entry in the race of the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Gujarat chief and fellow Patidar leader, Gopal Italia.
The prospect of the Patidar vote splitting has left Moradiya scrambling for support of the Prajapati OBC community, which has long sought a candidate of its own in the seat, and now has one in the Congress’s Kalpesh Variya. So far, the Prajapatis too have largely voted for the BJP.
The search for votes has also added a familiar, shrill refrain to Moradiya’s campaign. On Tuesday evening, speaking at a ‘Samarthan Sammelan (support meeting)’ organised by the party’s Prajapati workers, the BJP candidate, in a purported reference to minority neighbourhoods in Katargam, said: “During a cricket match, when (Pakistan cricketer) Javed Miandad hit a six on a Chetan Sharma ball, or Sunil Gavaskar got out, they would burst firecrackers. There was nobody to stop them, and these things were not reported in newspapers.”
A large number of Prajapati community members attended the meeting, which was followed by dinner.
Moradiya added: “Which model do we need — that of the Statue of Unity, Pavagadh, or the Hajj House of Mumbai? Earlier, in Surat, when one returned home from Chowk Bazaar to Ved Darwaja (crossing a minority-dominated area), carrying diamond packets, small roadside shopkeepers and ruffians would rob one. We could not say anything as we were afraid. We were also afraid of hitting anybody and would slow down while driving our bikes down these parts. Only after reaching Ved Darwaja would we feel safe… such was the environment. We were living in mental slavery. The BJP, which came to power in 1995, took strict action against goondas and sent them to jail… That is why we elected the BJP government, and now our country too feels safe as we have sent Narendra Modi from Gujarat to Delhi.”
Moradiya’s Prajapati Sammelan coincided with a road show by AAP supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the constituency in support of Italia. It attracted impressive crowds.
On Thursday, Variya is due to hold a similar Prajapati sammelan as Moradiya’s in the constituency.
The Katargam Assembly seat is estimated to have over 90,000 members of the Patidar community, followed by 75,000 Prajapati members, over 25,000 Muslims, and over 50,000 migrants, half of them from Maharashtra. A large number of people have some kind of link to the diamond and textile industries.
Jignesh Jevani, the Congress candidate who lost last time, is also a Patidar.
Recently, the Prajapati community took out a rally and demanded from all political parties that they give a ticket to someone from their community. Messages have been circulated on social media asking the Prajapati community to vote for Variya.
At his Prajapati meeting, Moradiya targeted Italia over some old videos of his which the BJP has been saying show his “anti-Hindu” character. “We are not the ones against any religion or religious leaders. There are some who earlier did so. Today, he (Italia) is going to temples showing love and respect for gods and religious leaders, and the reason behind this is to change his image.”
While targeting the Congress too, Moradiya was careful not to make a mention of Variya. “The Congress is an old party and they are weak. The Congress only gives assurances and does not do any work, while we have done development in the state and city. Surat is now known as the city of bridges, we have over 117 bridges. We laid the foundation stone for a library in the Katargam area, we are also going to lay the foundation stone for an auditorium. It will be the first such in Gujarat with the latest technology, even a two-floor basement parking,” the minister said.
Making a direct appeal to the Prajapati community, Moradiya said: “The Vataliya Prajapati Samaj are silent people, not aggressive by nature. They don’t resort to conflicts or quarrels with other communities. If something happens to them, they tolerate and forgive.” Then, he added: “Here I want to say that if any woman or sister of this community faces eve-teasing or harassment from anybody, including those close to me, they should contact me. I have come across such cases… The families tell the girl to keep quiet, fearing they would be told to leave their house and face the anger of the other community. I am a leader for the entire Hindu Samaj and not for any special community, and I am here to protect them.”
Naresh Variya, who belongs to the Prajapati community, says the community won’t be as easily swayed by the BJP this time. “The community demanded a ticket from all parties but only the Congress listened… People do not like either the behaviour and attitude of BJP candidate Moradiya, especially after he became a minister.”
He specifically cites Moradiya not meeting members of the cattle-rearing Maldhari community while they were protesting over some demolitions and a new cattle law.
Naresh Variya adds that both the Opposition candidates are good choices. “(Congress candidate) Kalpesh Variya is new and is a Prajapati. Gopal Italia is also new but widely renowned.”