Kanodar, a non-descript village in Vadgam assembly constituency of Gujarat witnessed a rare spectacle on Saturday when Rahul Gandhi arrived here to campaign in support of independent candidate Jignesh Mevani. This public meeting was finalised at the last moment, a day before, but the dirty road from helipad to meeting ground was jam packed with almost ten thousand supporters. Women, children and senior citizens all had come out on this Muslim dominated seat to see a national leader visit their village after a long span of more than 15 years.
"Sonia Gandhi had come here in the wake of devastating Bhuj earthquake. After that we have seen no big leader", says a local vegetable vendor waiting for newly nominated Congress president for nearly three hours. Just before his arrival, a swarm of honeybees came out of nowhere. A senior citizen who runs motor parts business commented on this sight, "These bees are like Congress. They bite but do not harm as much. BJP kills."
Vadgam has been an old Congress bastion. The sitting MLA from Congress has been shifted to somewhere else due to peoples' resentment. Jignesh, a Dalit leader who came into prominence with infamous Una incident last year, wanted to contest from some reserved seat of Ahmedabad but he was assigned Vadgam SC seat by Rahul Gandhi. After many deliberations it was decided that Gandhi will hold a public meeting in his support.
The meeting has paid dividends. Saturday late night, Hotel One ten was full of local leaders who left BJP and joined Congress after rally. Jignesh is running his campaign from a small hotel on Palanpur-Ahmedabad highway where all sort of activists and social workers have gathered since last week, many from Delhi. On Thursday night, a scuffle and minor stone pelting was reported at this hotel between local Shia community and Patels, reportedly from Congress. Local Congress cadre was disillusioned with the high command decision to give ticket to an outsider that had resulted in infighting.
This prompted Rahul Gandhi to take quick action and organise a public meeting at the last hour. Logistics were arranged by Yusuf Khakhar, an old Congressman. Now the only problem facing Jignesh Mevani is the non-Patel OBC voters. Ameeque Jamei, an active AISF leader from Delhi, admits that the polarisation of the electorate is a real disadvantage for Mevani. "We will look into this and find some way out", says Jamei. The team has identified pockets where they need to seriously work in the next couple of days before campaign is over, Keeping this in mind, many campaigners including Jamei stayed in an interior village of Vadgam having significant OBC population of around 36,000 voters.
The Gujarat assembly election has become interesting in the wake of rise three young leaders- Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakore. Alpesh is fighting from Radhanpur, not very distant from Palanpur. "He could have come here to convince OBC community but it could not happen. Although we expect around 40 percent OBC voted for Mevani", says an activist who has come here all the way from Bihar to ensure BJP's defeat.
There is one major factor haunting Jignesh's fortunes. Outsiders are campaigning for him in large numbers who neither understand the dynamics of this area nor speak Gujarati, This creates confusion at times, YogendraYadav from Swaraj Party came here to campaign for Jignesh a couple of days back. He held a meeting in an interior village of Vadgam and hailed Congress saying that "he was happy that Congress is fighting this election with full vigor for first time in Gujarat". An activist present there told National Herald, "Hearing this, people went dumb. They could not connect and react to what Yadav was saying". ShamshadPathan, an old time comrade of Jignesh says, "I told him a couple of times that this is an old congress bastion and you need not comment anything that displeasures Congress voters, Since people naturally vote for Congress here, it was something awry to hear Yadav saying this".
Samir Khan Pathan,an old resident of Palanpur who drives three wheeler is convinced of BJP's defeat this time if the EVM factor is not taken into account. Pathan says, "This is an equal fight. What I can say realistically is that BJP will fall short of majority. There will be minor difference between votes of BJP and Congress. Whoever forms the government will rest on the EVM".
Meanwhile, PM NarendraModi's public meeting was scheduled to be held in Palanpur city on Sunday. People were least interested when asked the details of meeting. Residents of Nani Bazaar, the oldest Muslim market in city, have kept their fingers crossed. Business was as usual on Saturday night with glittering lights and aroma of Mughlai delicacies. They understand NarendraModi much than anyone else. In the words of a local auto-driver, "Modi and Shah can do anything to retain power. Sonia and Rahul need to learn the electoral games from them otherwise they will never succeed in returning back to power". He had emphasised on "anything".
Just a couple of days left for the second round of polling, people here suspiciously wait for the "anything" factor as Jignesh still struggles to come out of the physical attacks, four times in last one week, plus the serious allegation of receiving a cheque from SDPI, a party affiliated to PFI that has reported links with Islamic state. Pathan, who never watches TV neither reads newspaper, knows the amount although in a different way, "Kah rahe hain ki usne paanch karod rupaya BJP se liya hai".
This is something new for a journalist coming from Delhi. "Anything" may come around. In any form. Gujarat model is in full swing.