It looks no different from scores of other sleepy, coastal villages in Junagadh district of Saurashtra. But Kukaswada boasts one very famous son, a man who exemplifies one of India’s best-known rags to riches stories.
He is Dhirubhai Ambani, whose sons Mukesh and Anil, now rank as the richest people in the country.
But all Kukaswada has gained from its association with the Ambanis is a school and a health centre. This village of 1,500 houses — like many other villages close to the sea — is fighting a losing battle against increasing salinity of its once fertile lands.
The Reliance family has not put up any manufacturing unit or industry close by to help out the hundreds of unemployed youth in the village.
“The village with its palm fronds looks beautiful when one is driving by. But the fact is that our lands have been becoming barren as the sea water seeps in,” said Pradyuman Raichand, a local farmer. “Yet, our children have few alternatives to farming. Many have been forced to move out and are now working as drivers in Rajkot. Neither Narendra Modi nor the Ambanis have done anything for us.”
Ironically, neighbouring Jamnagar district houses the biggest petro-chemical refinery in the world, built by the Ambanis. The refinery has sent the price of land around it skyrocketing, benefiting thousands of farmers living there.
Raichand is a Rajput, in this village dominated by Kolis, owning around 10 acres of land. He grows groundnuts, the only crop that sprouts here any more. But productivity is falling. His income comes mainly from the 300-odd coconut trees on his land, which can withstand soil salinity.
Most Kukaswada residents remain sceptical of Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a Rs 11,000 crore scheme for the development of coastal villages, a plan which includes better equipped polytechnic colleges, and opportunities for self employment.
A canal aimed at infusing fresh waters by joining two rivers Meghal and Kalindri and providing a physical barrier to the sea line, begun during Modi's tenure, lies incomplete at the village’s border. The project estimated to cost Rs 7 crore is expected to transform the fortunes of nearly 40 villages off the coast, but work on it is at a standstill.
In Junagadh district alone, there have been 85 farmers suicides in the last three years. The official figures given to an activist Bharat Singh Jalla under Right to Information Act in October may belie the reality in this arid peninsula.
“Everyone talks of development in Gujarat and of agriculture growth. But, here there has been no change. The government is distinctly anti-farmer. Why should we vote for Modi?,” said Dharam Megha.
Megha works as a driver in Rajkot, the land he owns being too little to feed a family of five.
Shantilal Masrani, whose father Natwarlal bought the one-room house Dhirubhai Ambani once lived in, from Dhirubhai's father Heerachand in 1935, agreed. Masrani, 69, said he had seen little change in the village in the last 40 years.
“If Ambanis didn’t do anything for the village what will a Modi or a Congress do ?” he asked.