The ideological potpourri in this election — with candidates switching sides effortlessly — is nothing compared to the one presented by the three-cornered opposition to Narendra Modi. Along with Keshubhai Patel, his Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) and the Congress, a little-known organisation, the Sadbhavna Samiti (SS), is bent upon cutting Modi to size. Headed by three-time BJP MLA Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria, the SS is pitching itself against Modi’s model of development.
A surgeon with a hospital called Sadbhavna, Kalsaria had opposed Modi’s allotment of waterlands belonging to tribals to Nirma for the setting up of a cement plant in Mahuva. Modi rejected the appeals and, according to Sanat Mehta, former Congressman and friend, philosopher and guide to the Sadbhavna movement, Kalsaria now has the support of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
“Rahul wanted Dr Kalsaria to join the Congress but I told him to let it be. If Doctor enters the Congress there will be a lot of resentment in the party. But we received all help to defeat the Nirma case in the Supreme Court and have decided to help the Congress, not because we have any love for the party, but to defeat Modi,” Mehta says.
Kalsaria says, “If the poor and deprived, including farmers are to survive in Gujarat, then we need to throw out the BJP and bring in the Congress.”
Narendra Ravat, the Vadodara city president of the Congress admits that the Youth Congress is supporting Kalsaria’s movement.
“It is true that Rahulji has offered the movement support. Of course, there is no political tie-up but Rahulji had told us that the movement is a good one in the interest of poor and so we must support it.
From the high percentage of voting, Mehta believes the SS could win four of the six seats it is contesting. “And if we do get those four, you can presume Modi will stand defeated.”
By no means does this mean that the Modi government might get voted out but it could be the beginning of the end for the self-proclaimed lion of Gujarat’s ambitions. “He is already nervous. Have you noticed how he has changed the tenor of his campaign midway from one aimed at 2014, to 2017,” says Mehta.
Mehta makes no bones about the fact that the Congress, GPP and SS have come to a tacit understanding, fielding weak candidates where the other has a stronger contender. Like in Mundra where they all asked the largely Muslim community of fishermen which party they preferred. The voters chose the Congress. So, the SS and the GPP bowed out. But in two of the six seats the SS is contesting, the Congress did not reciprocate. “So we saw a four-cornered contest in those places. But I must say, despite such hiccups, the Sadbhavna factor has brought huge crowds to Rahul Gandhi’s rallies this time. Last time, he had to limit himself to road shows.”
Cassim Unia, a member of the senate at the Maharaja Sayyajirao University in Vadodara, with secular leanings is wary of such optimism. “Once bitten, twice shy," he says. But all that the three Modi opponents want is five seats each —five more to the Congress than it won the last time and five each for the SS and GPP, which also has some RSS support. They do not yet dream of sweeping Modi out. But Modi has clearly woken up to the dangers of this strange behind-the-scenes alliance.
The CM attempted to woo Kalsaria back, according to Mohsina Khan, an NGO worker aiding Mehta. “You should have listened to me when you had the time,” Dr Kalsaria told Modi, says Khan.
Adds Mehta, “We are not into politics here. This is only a means to an end.” The end being restoring Gujarat to Mahatma Gandhi. “The poor must belong as well as the rich. And that is the Gandhian base of our movement against Modi’s crony capitalism.”