Named after Duleepsinhji, the Kathiawar-born royal cricket legend, known for his elegant wristy shots and footwork, who went on to play for England, the Duleep ground is the biggest cricket venue in Porbandar on India’s western tip. But girls from the year-old team in Porbandar’s oldest girls’ college, Arya Mahavidyalaya, are not allowed to practice there: “Only the boys are.”
Says college captain and all-rounder, Kajal Keshbala, 21: “There is talk of beti bachaao, padhaao and khilaao, but where is it happening?” Opening batswoman, Geeta Modhvade, chimes in: “We will vote for those leaders who will give India a better future and do as they say they will.”
The girls say that whenever they push themselves, try to make something of their lives, the question they face at home is this: “Su Karvanu Che? (What do you want to do?)”
Says Manisha Sadiya, 20, daughter of a daily-wage mason, who is in hostel on a scholarship: “Cleanliness, availability of drinking water, all of these are tackled during elections but only then. The bigger problems of the educated unemployed are not being resolved, of those at the bottom.”
Sadiya’s friend Kiran Kaarina, 20, is a student of Gujarati and the daughter of farmers — her links with villages around Porbandar are strong and deep. “We know and want Digital India, but those not on the digital map should also get what is due to them. I don’t care about political parties, I want someone who can take the country forward,” she says.
Linking two worlds: Urban, rural
Within Porbandar are deep linkages between the urban pockets and the rapidly urbanising rural areas around. Most first-time learners, like the girls from the cricket team, stand testimony to that connection that keeps them in both worlds, simultaneously.
Politically, Porbandar is a long-held BJP seat. The only time after 1984 that the Congress wrested it was in 2009 — even then, the MP Vitthal Radadiya defected to the BJP in 2012 and is now the sitting Parliamentarian. Over the last four years, however, there has been ferment here. Known to have been a key centre for the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), the Leuva Patel-led agitation, which started in 2015 and shook Gujarat, still has its imprint here.
The Congress candidate in this election, Lalit Vasoya, is said to have been handpicked by new entrant Hardik Patel, who was ruled out from contesting himself due to a case against him. During 2017, Vasoya had won from one of the seven assembly segments here.
On a padayatra in the main market, Vasoya says he has his task cut out. “There are so many problems that the farmers face here… even basics, like the water problem, have not been met. The economy is in a bad shape,” he says. The rural areas echo the stories of distress from neighbouring Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
In Bapodar village, 6 km off the highway, the distress has been compounded by three years of drought and no guaranteed minimum support price. The farmers, mainly cultivating groundnut, are distraught.
They nod about drinking water, but not for water to crops. They say the basic concern is that of the PM Fasal Bima Yojana. According to them, the failed crop got “just 8 per cent” of what they expected. They claim insurance companies have duped them despite pushing to collect premiums for both Rabi and Kharif crops. Deputy Sarpanch, Jagubhai, says the water scarcity compounded by payment of premiums and no returns has pushed them to a corner.
Says Keshu Bhai, who owns 30 bigha: “We are discovering the limits of our power. We went to the zila panchayat with our complaints. Last week, we protested and went to Rajkot, too. But the money is gone. After that, what? The Centre says they will double our income by 2022. Should we wait for that?”
With the MP for 10 years out of the reckoning, a local BJP leader and former head of the Gujarat Agricultural Marketing Board, Ramesh Dhadhuk, is in the fray. BJP district president, Vikram Odedara is confident of “sweeping” the polls. He is anxious and insists there are “no issues”. “There were some concerns like crop insurance which the farmers misunderstood. Note ban and GST are all forgotten. All say they will vote for (Narendra) Modiji,” he says.
The Congress Farmers Cell in Gujarat had alleged recently that in 2018, premium of Rs 3,200 crore had been collected from farmers, and that despite crop failure and semi-drought conditions, only 20 per cent of the claims had been settled.
Says Odedara: “We have explained to the farmers. As their crops had not failed completely, they did not get the money fully. They have understood. This big election is not for such issues.”
Gandhi’s home, tit-for-tat
Porbandar is at the heart of the 20th century version of the original Gujarat model, known the world over for being Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace. In the 150th year of his birth, his birthplace, Kriti Mandir, is the only monument in the country that stays open 365 days a year. Harshad Bhai Purohit, who runs its souvenir store, says about 1,500 people visit daily, and that each candidate makes ceremonial visits. The Chief Ministers of Gujarat come on October 2 to partake in the prayers. “Gandhi gets lip-service, but there is no real commitment to his ideas of politics or of public service,” he says.
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But Gandhi’s ideas, which make Porbandar so central to tourist circuits, are locked in deep conflict with another set of ideas in Gujarat, that of not turning the other cheek. Says Rohini Ba Jadeja, a lecturer in Home Science who is proud of her RSS heritage: “Tit-for-tat toh karna padega, if some Muslims are here but support Pakistan and are kattar (hardline), we will have to fight them.”
Porbandar, the Parliamentary constituency in the Saurashtra belt, comprises seven assembly segments, of which five went to the BJP in 2017, and one each to the Congress and the NCP. This time, neither Gandhi nor the counter to his worldview, seem to be hotly debated overtly in 2019 — Porbandar will vote on April 23, with the rest of the state’s 26 constituencies.
Pakistan echo but not on terror
What’s debated though is Pakistan — but not in the way the BJP perhaps intended it to. At the port, fishermen and boat owners are more concerned about the ability of Modi to negotiate with Pakistan.
And the reason is this: “About 1,000 of our boats are there. There is pressure to go deeper to get a good catch, as chemicals closer to the coast have reduced our chances of getting good fish. So our people mistakenly enter Pakistan waters. They get caught and are returned gradually, but the boats are not. We need to get our boats back by persuading Pakistan,” says Jadhobhai Postaria, president of the Boat Association of Porbandar.
In 2015, after India sent a delegation to Pakistan, “57 boats were returned”. “We are happy that the Centre has promised us a fisheries ministry, and we hope that the subsidy for the Blue Revolution that Modiji speaks of will be a reality. But our immediate concern is to get the boats back,” says Postaria. Says Rajiv, who waiting is for his boat that left on April 5: “Each boat costs about Rs 30-40 lakh. It is important to talk to Pakistan and get them back.”