“I’m a pracharak,” Dhansukhbhai, 60, tells HT. He's straddling a motorcycle, a cloth bag hanging from the handle bars, a bit of saffron cloth peeping out of the bag.
It is Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s rally in this village of Satavav in Mandvi taluka of Surat district and it looks as though the opposition is up to its dirty tricks. “What is the RSS doing at a Congress rally?” he is asked.
“Oh, I am not that kind of pracharak,” he clarifies. The saffron edge belongs to a Congress flag, after all and this correspondent says, “You are a Congress campaigner!”
“No. I am an Adivasi but I am Christian. I’m a Bible pracharak.”
Dhansukhbhai has biked down nearly 50 km to hear Sonia Gandhi and says, “The government here has put all Adivasis in a bind. They don’t let us rise. They don’t let us benefit from any scheme. They want to keep us unenlightened. They work only for themselves. I can see Sonia Gandhi takes everyone along with her government. I know the BJP will win again though. So that's why we need the Congress in New Delhi to keep us going.”
It’s Friday post-noon and the time for namaaz is approaching. But 20-something Maqsoodbhai and his friends don’t want to quit their seats in the front row behind the barricade and hope Sonia will go past after her speech so they can shake hands with her.
She does come past but the police prevent the handshake. They are more disappointed about that than about missing namaaz. “But it was worth it, that's how close I got to her.”
HT approaches a young tribal woman and she is shy about answering questions. “So will you vote for Sonia's party?”.
“Hey Ram, what kind of silly question is that?” She suddenly pipes up. “Why would we all have been here otherwise?”
But the most telling tale is that of 85-year-old freedom fighter Nandlal Kanchan. “Kanchan is my nom de plume,” he says in Gujarati. “You understand what a nom de plume is? I write poetry.”
Does he think the Congress will sweep this time?
Yes, he’s sure. What's behind that confidence? “I’ve come here with a prayer for Soniaji,” he breaks into Hindi. “And I’ve walked about 10 km since the morning taking God’s name.”
Does he have any other reason for his confidence apart from a prayer? No, he says. But he’s sure his prayer will be answered.
“I am 85,” he says, emphasising what an ordeal the walk was to him. So his prayer must be heard.
Congressmen themselves are not so sure though. They need a lot more than just prayers.