He is popularly known as “Bhai”, claims to “live in a jhopri in Mumbai”, has courted controversy for his alleged links to a Rs 400-crore fishing contracts scam, and was among those indicted by the Srikrishna Commission for his alleged role in the 1993 Mumbai riots. Today, plagued by ailments and with hours to go for voting, four-time MLA and Gujarat Fisheries Minister Parshottam Solanki is so confident of a victory that he is already planning to launch his son Divyesh in 2022.
Even if it means questioning his own party’s position on “dynasty politics” — a charge the BJP has often levelled against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is set to take over as party president from mother Sonia Gandhi. Asked about his party’s attack on the Gandhis, Solanki is clear: “They should not. Did Rahul ever intervene in your matters, and say — give ticket to this one or that one? He does not say. So why do you have to say?”
Asked whether the BJP should rake up the dynasty issue, including in his case, he says, “It is wrong. They [BJP] don’t touch someone who is powerful. But someone who is weak, who cannot fight, they do dadagiri, flex their muscle…”
Having won Ghogha seat (now Bhavnagar Rural) since 1998, Solanki, now 56, is sure he will launch Divyesh from here next time: “110 per cent, after five years Divyesh will contest… from this very constituency.” And, he says, the BJP will have to support him — if it wants his support. “Because they want to win the nine seats of Bhavnagar, and if they don’t give my son [the ticket], I won’t step out to campaign,” he says.
Solanki’s clout is such that in the last two elections, there was talk of him not getting a ticket. But not only has he represented the BJP, he has won and got a ministry. “They [BJP] have to think who is beneficial for them. If you like Parshottam, give him [ticket], if you like someone else, give them… But don’t remember Parshottam later, when in need… Whenever the BJP needs me, I am there, even in the middle of the night,” he says.
Solanki believes that the new Ro-Ro ferry inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October, connecting Ghogha to Dahej in Bharuch, has helped businessmen. “Ghogha has high tide, it is risky to go to sea, the Ro-Ro is very sturdy. You can reach Surat in an hour, and 600 people can be taken there and back… The biggest business here is of diamonds… now they can go and return in eight hours instead of having to stay overnight. It’s a risky business [because of possible robbery],” he says.
However, he is not so sure about the ferry generating employment, as BJP leaders have claimed. “No, the two are not related. All such talk is humbug,” says Solanki. But he agrees with his party’s line that its vote-share will not be affected by demonetisation and GST. “Who would be affected? Does the poor have that much money?” Solanki says.
Asked about corruption charges against him, Solanki says, “Of the Rs 400 crore (alleged fishing contract scam)? You see my house, my office, does the Rs 400 crore show? Wouldn’t I buy a home in a VIP area then? At least, I would have an office in a VIP area… I live in a jhopri in Mumbai, I am still amid the public. To reach my home, you have to walk, I was born there. In a month, I live there for around 5-7 days.” Solanki’s election affidavit declares assets worth Rs 46 crore and five FIRs, two of these lodged in police stations of Mumbai.
“Solanki is too ill to step out, and today they [BJP] were forced to do this rally led by his son and daughter because yesterday we did a grand rally led by Raj Babbar,” claims Keshubhai Bhagat, election agent of Congress candidate Kantibhai Chauhan, a Koli leader who left the BJP in August.
About Chauhan, Solanki says, “I promoted him so that he stays in the BJP… I made him general secretary. When he switched to the Congress 2-3 months ago, I did not expect him to fight me.”
This election, the strongman from the politically powerful Koli community is mostly based at his bungalow on the main road of Bhavnagar, while his son and daughter Deepa are out on campaign 20 km away, in the old city of Sihor. “I am already into social work… [This time] I campaigned for the sake of my father and vansh (dynasty). Besides, I am also the president of the youth wing of Koli Sena,” says Divyesh.
There’s a reason why Solanki has been holding sway in these parts for so long. He says “mass weddings” and “mandir (donations)” and “building of ropads” have helped him win elections — his three daughters, Deepa, Jignasha and Chetna, got married in mass ceremonies in Mumbai attended by Bollywood actors.
“I have the blessings of sisters and daughters. Today if they have to go out late they need not worry. Earlier, there was so much dadagiri, especially in my Ghogha area… drunken men would harass girls,” he says. “Now even in the middle of the night, they can go out safely… because I don’t spare anybody. I would take my team and go into their village and beat them up. Total dadagiri… their torture is now gone.”