A broken shoulder and arm in plaster have not held back 70-year-old veteran Vajubhai Vala. He has been addressing gatherings at every major chowk in his Rajkot II seat, in the heart of Saurashtra, seeking a sixth term.
Vala is Narendra Modi’s finance minister and key aide, the one who vacated his seat in 2001 to enable Modi to enter the Assembly through a bypoll. In the December 2002 elections, however, Modi shifted to Maninagar, giving Vala back the seat he has nursed for two decades.
There is anti-incumbency feeling at work, and Vala knows it. But he puts on a brave face. “Voters seek change only when their representative does not satisfy their requirements. I have worked hard for the city’s development and with the people’s blessings will win again.” He claims to have initiated development work in Rajkot worth Rs 25,000 crore over his two decades as an MLA.
The shoulder, the result of a recent accident, does not bother him, he says. “The injury will heal but the pain of not getting to serve Gujarat’'s five crore citizens will rankle forever.”
Vala’s Congress opponent is an old rival, 45-year-old Kashmira Nathwani, whom he has defeated twice, though the campaigns were marred by political and personal mudslinging. In the last poll, Vala’s victory margin was not large — 8,500 votes.
Vala had once even slapped a Rs 5 crore defamation suit against Nathwani, for comments she was reported to have made about him. But this campaign has been very staid and proper.
“He has represented this area for so many years. But he still hasn’t set up an office in Rajkot where people can go and meet him. He is in charge of the state’s finances, claims to be directing the state’s development. But small scale industries like the oil engine industry in Rajkot have declined,” says Nathwani.