As film star and Congress MP Raj Babbar regales a fascinated audience in a small village maidan smelling of cow dung, it seems most people living here might be Muslims.
“Don't ever make that mistake," says Yakub Patel, a village elder. "It’s true that at functions like this until recently you’d find only Muslims. Take a look around you. Ask them their names. There are a lot of Hindus here. A change of heart is underway."
Patel says the constituency surprised itself by defeating the BJP candidate in 2007. “The Congress candidate won by 1,000 votes. We hope to widen the lead this time.”
That a change of heart might have begun in parts of Gujarat is obvious from the issues uniting Hindus and Muslims in this village: lack of drinking water, schools, sanitation and electricity. "Look at our children playing in the field. Do they look like the future of a vibrant Gujarat?" asks Farzana Malik, a former councilor. “I would request you to peek inside our homes and you will know for whom Gujarat is really shining.”
Across a gutter is a community of Hindu Maharashtrians, among them Mukesh Marathe who has been to jail six times between 2002 and 2007 on charges of rioting and violence. He was a BJP member but switched sides in 2007 to join the Congress.
“They used to make the (Hindu) Maharashtrians and (Gujarati) Muslims fight all the time. Our families have been living here for 200 years and my grandfather doesn’t remember when we didn’t live in peace,” Marathe says.
“The Congress might have its failures but they don't make us kill each other. I had to think of my children's future. The CM talks of his 6 crore (60 million) Gujaratis all the time. Aren't we part of that 6 crore?”