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The Rediff Election Special / Amberish K Diwanji in Rajkot
Of empty Congress office and Rajkot
April 13, 2004
The door and the gate are shut.
With days to go for elections, the Congress office reveals why democracy in Gujarat has been reduced to a farce.
Democracy assumes the voters have a choice between two parties, each of which offers a competing worldview, ideologies, and different tactics to make the country better and the citizens more prosperous.
But in Rajkot city, capital of the erstwhile Saurashtra state and the largest city in this region, the Congress has given up on the battle.
There is no one in the office to brief reporters or mobilize supporters to give the BJP a fight. The sole representative, the Congress party Rajkot city incharge, Jaswant Bhatti, is out.
Perhaps he is busy with the elections, but surely the opposition party's office in Gujarat's fourth largest city would have more than just one occupier.
Raju Patel, who owns a design office next door, admits the office is shut most of the time. The office only has activity early in the morning and late in the evening. Otherwise it is empty, he said.
The other troubling question is that the Congress office is difficult to access. It is on the third floor. A political party's office that would normally see a stream of visitors trooping in and out is invariably located on the ground floor, or at worst, on the first floor.
And after puffing up to the third floor, to be greeted by a shut door with no explanation of what the office timings are, is it any wonder that political observers keep lamenting the demise of the Congress party.
Outside a man is sleeping, taking a break from the gruelling sun that chars the skin. And it is an undisturbed sleep.
In the Congress's defence, it can be said that it is not contesting the elections in Rajkot city, though one would imagine Rajkot as a hub for Saurashtra that provides eight seats (including Kutch) from Gujarat's 26.
As a part of its tie-up with the Nationalist Congress Party, the latter has put up a candidate, Balwant Manvar.
The NCP office is buzzing with activity as it makes it maiden entry to the Saurashtra region. Party activists claim that they will breach into the BJP votebank, and give out the specifics of caste equations.
The figures are mathematics, but then voting is never with mathematical precision.
"We will win because the BJP will not get the Kadva Patel votes," claimed Suresh Govani, an advocate and NCP activist. His BJP rival, Vallabhbhai Kathriya, belongs to Leva subcaste of the Patels.
Govani said the BJP government was ignoring the Kadva Patels, so much so that the Kadva Patels had decided to oppose the BJP.
But at the BJP office, any claim of losing to the Congress or the NCP in Saurashtra is dismissed with a laugh.
The BJP began its journey in Gujarat from Saurashtra, making deep inroads into the powerful Patel lobby that dominates this region.
"The party currently holds all the seats of Saurashtra except Surendranagar. "We lost Surendranagar because the Congress had put up a Koli candidate (Sausinh Makwana) while we had not. But this time, we too have a Koli candidate, Soma Ghanda, and we'll get the Koli votes along with those of our loyal supporters," explains Dhansukh Bhanderi, BJP, Rajkot city, president.
The Kolis are the largest caste group in Surendranagar.
Bhanderi claims that the sole reason why the Congress did not put up a candidate from Rajkot was that it found no one willing to take on Kathriya, who has already represented Rajkot thrice.
That is why they gifted the seat to the NCP, which is only too happy to see this as a chance to claim some representation in Saurashtra, he added.
A local journalist points out that in all the past days of campaigning, not a single top level Congress candidate has so far even visited the Saurashtra region. "It is as though they too have given up the fight," he said.
Sonia Gandhi is expected to address a public meeting in Kutch in a couple of days, while Sharad Pawar is still recuperating from a surgery.
But in this state, considered the most rightwing of Indian states, it is clear that the BJP really does not have much of an opposition.
Bhanderi proudly boasts that the BJP will win all the eight seats of this region. "And believe me, we will win Rajkot by a record margin," he claims.