Krishna Dave, 68, hugs the visitor at her doorway in Rajkot. “Vote for the lotus,” says Anjali Rupani, wife of Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. Dave, a retired teacher, commits her vote. “I have been a BJP voter for a long time. It is nice that Anjaliben herself comes to our doorstep,” she says.
In the same housing society, Anjali Rupani engages in a brief conversation with Charu Chaudhary. “I had seen her before but after this interaction, I know her better,” says Chaudhary, retired matron of a girls’ hostel who adds her family supports the BJP.
Rajkot West’s history gives the BJP a lot to be confident about. It covers three complete wards of the municipal corporation, and includes parts of four more; the BJP holds all but one. Rajkot West is a stronghold of the RSS, which still controls institutes such as Rajkot Nagrik Sahkari Bank.
Earlier known as Rajkot-II, the seat is among the BJP’s oldest fortresses. Vajubhai Vala, now governor of Karnataka, won from here seven times for the BJP, from 1985 to 2012. He vacated it once — in 2001 — for Narendra Modi after the latter was nominated CM. Vala returned after Modi moved to Maninagar seat. And after Vala moved to Karnataka, Vijay Rupani won the bypoll in 2014.
This time, the Congress has mounted a strong challenge. It has brought in the sitting MLA from Rajkot East, Indranil Rajyaguru, to try and exploit the caste combinations of Rajkot West. Rajyaguru is a Brahmin, one of the largest communities among Rajkot West’s 3.17 lakh voters. Patidars form the largest chunk, around one-fifth, followed by Brahmins at around a tenth. Next are Dalits, Muslims and Baniyas, their numbers close to one another. Jains, the community to which Rupani belongs, number between 2% and 3%.
Yet the track record, the RSS influence and a robust party organisation give the BJP a confidence that shows during Anjali Rupani’s afternoon campaign for her husband. At the upscale Ravi Residency, young residents light firecrackers to welcome the CM’s wife. The society has engaged a band who play all the while Anjali Rupani interacts with residents. Archi Thaker, a class IX student, wraps a scarf around the visitor, applies vermillion on her forehead and offers her sweets. “The scarf was from a temple of Lord Krishna and is a blessing that will ensure victory for the BJP. Though I will not be voting, I am a BJP supporter,” says Archi, daughter of an advocate, before getting herself photographed with Anjali Rupani.
“You don’t have to worry at all. We are all with you,” says society resident Kirit Bhatt, 66, a farmer who hails from Surendranagar. Bhatt claims he was once a key aide of former BJP minister I K Jadeja.
At the next housing society, Tuljashankar Jani, 74, who retired as a cook from the circuit house in Devbbhoomi Dwarka, pledges similar support. But what about Rajyaguru, Rupani’s Brahmin challenger? “I know we are brothers,” Jani says, “but one cannot ignore Modi’s work.”
Here and there, however, are unhappy voters. Jiva Sondarva is repairing shoes on the footpath and Anjali Rupani greets him with a namaksar. Later, he points to his broken cabin. “Since this cabin gave in to rust four months ago, I have been repairing shoes on this footpath,” he says. “When Anjali Rupani asked me to vote for the BJP, I said yes. Could I have said her no in her face? But whether BJP wins or Congress, I am not going to gain much,” adds Sondarva, 60, a Dalit.
Local BJP leaders agree that it will be difficult to win over Dalits, who are concentrated in three of the wards.
Towards evening, Anjali Rupani winds up her campaign and drives away. Vijay Rupani is scheduled to address a gathering of retirees. He arrives around an hour late. “This event is an opportunity to honour those who have spent their lives serving the public… Your views are respected by society,” the CM says. “If the BJP wins, the future of Gujarat will be safe as our Prime Minister is in Delhi.”
He addresses a meeting of the Suthar or carpenter community, then another of the Kadva Patel sub-caste. Jayram Vansjaliya, vice president of Umiya Mata Temple Trust of Sidsar (Jamnagar), and retired bureaucrat Babu Ghodasara, now a BJP member, urge the gathering not to be swayed by the Patidar quota agitation.
As the CM rises, workers chant: “Rajkot ka beta, Gujarat ka neta.” Rupani corrects them. “The slogan should have been ‘Gujarat ka beta, desh ka neta’,” he says, going on to praise Modi. The CM concludes by saying that BJP stands for development whereas the Congress, supported by leaders of the Patidar quota stir, means anarchy.
When the crowd heads for dinner, it becomes apparent that not everybody is a BJP supporter. “A local BJP worker, who is a relative, asked me to come here with a few friends and add to the numbers. But I will not vote for the BJP,” says Sagar Maradiya, 30, a farmer now settled in Rajkot. “Modi used to say he would give Rs1,400 per 20 kg cotton, but I am getting just Rs 800. Farmers and Patidars will not vote for the BJP and it will be defeated.” Nor everyone is a Patidar either. “We were told that dinner would be served, so we came,” says Babu Parma, who drives an autorickshaw.
The run-up to the polls were marred by a clash over setting up hoardings Saturday. Divyaneel Rajyaguru, the Congress candidate’s younger brother, was hospitalised after being allegedly assaulted by BJP workers. Indranil Rajyaguru tried to stage a dharna outside the CM’s private residence and was booked for illegal assembly and arrested.
Out on bail, Rajyaguru alleges that the BJP is trying to assassinate his character by attempting to portray him as a goon. This, he claims, is because he is giving a tough fight to Rupani. Rajyaguru has been promising to end the “corruption of Rupani in Rajkot Municipal Corporation and in Saurashtra University, and goondaism in the city”.
“I have assets that can be declared,” says Rajyaguru, the wealthiest candidate in the fray with declared assets worth Rs141 crore. “But who is paying for banners and hoardings of Rupani in the city?”