Kandhal Jadeja campaign for the NCP in Porbandara, Gujarat (Smruti Koppikar/HT Photo)
In this dry and dusty outback of Gujarat, the impending assembly election is less about Modi-Hindutva and more about local gang wars.
The gangs, formed along the caste lines of Koli and Mer, defined Porbandar region for three decades till a welcome lull in the last few years. Inter-gang murders in Porbandar —Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace — may be fewer but inter-gang rivalry continues to be intense. It typically characterises the political space.
Kandhal Jadeja represents this like no other. Son of Santokben ‘Godmother’ Jadeja — who passed away last year — and late don Sarman Munja, Kandhal Jadeja had decided to contest this election from the traditional preserve of the family — and the Jadeja gang — in Kutiyana even if he was an Independent. Jadeja, facing 18 serious charges, wrangled a Nationalist Congress Party ticket and tried hard, in vain, to have party chief Sharad Pawar campaign for him.
“My mother represented Kutiyana and worked for it. After her term ended 15 years ago, there has been no development work at all. My people pleaded with me to fight this election, 106 sarpanches went to the Congress chief for me,” says Jadeja, tall and imposing in his manner, surrounded by private security as well as, ironically, a police constable.
His “election convoy” comprises one of his SUVs, three sedans and a couple of jeeps, stocked with necessities such as water and “some must-have things for men who face threats to their lives”, he says.
In his short brusque speeches, Jadeja talks of bringing development — water, roads, schools — to Kutiyana’s forgotten villages and asks for votes.
In villages such as Ravedra, Mandedara, Kanthar, only men gather to listen; women are conspicuous by their absence in the public space. His rival — political and criminal — Karsan Odedara (BJP) too talks of “bringing roads and water”; no one in the audience dares ask him why subsequent BJP governments have not done so in the last 12 years. Or, why “Godmother” did not during her reign.
“All this is talk, Porbandar region will continue to be torn between gangs, only the town has somewhat developed,” rues Sunil Gohel, former president of the Porbandar municipality. “The term bhai is a suffix to Gujarati names but out here it means don. The birthplace of Mahatma is a hotbed of dons,” he adds.
In the town itself, Babubhai Bokhiriya, BJP candidate, displays all the trappings of a local strongman — well-guarded house, personal security, et al.
In this terrain, reminiscent of Bihar or UP, stands Arjunbhai Modhwadia, an engineer-turned-politician, currently chief of the Congress in Gujarat. “There is lesser anti-social activity here, but it’s not absent,” he says, “I am fighting money power, muscle power and Modi power.”
Modhwadia, whose brother was a victim of a gang shootout, knows he cannot change Porbandar’s political landscape.
Poll time, here, is a time for gangs to flex muscle and demonstrate power. Political representation is an incidental gain for those who win and development is largely a good word to talk about.