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The Rediff Election Special/ Saisuresh Sivaswamy
An Evening in Bharuch
It was with sudden and growing horror that I realised the autorickshaw that was spluttering towards my destination had no rear-view mirror! And the driver, unfazed no doubt by years of steering his three-wheeler through chaotic traffic, turned at the appropriate places by looking behind him and then darting his hand out.
Fortunately for me, a first-timer in Bharuch, none of the places within the city that I went to were beyond a few kilometres, and thus was my coronary averted.
It was then that I noticed that the city's predominant mode of transport is the two-wheeler, and that quite a few were being driven by pre-adults, of whom again quite a few were in school uniform! I mean, someone somewhere forgot to tell the Bharuch authorities that one needs to be 18 and above to be eligible for a licence, which alone can qualify one to be in the driver's seat. Either that or they have changed the rule since the time I was a pre-adult.
I pointed this out to my driver, a local, the next day and he agreed readily. The lad underwent a driving test in Bombay, and when he returned to Bharuch he found that the rules that had been dinned into him had become redundant. "Here you go where you want to go," was his simple summation of the city's road ethic. Abetting this is the fact that I did not come across more than one road signal all over the 'city'.
Pluck a city-slicker and hurl him into the mystery that is Bharat, and you will have my experiences. Abiding by the conventional urban wisdom that a city contains more than one Lok Sabha constituency, I had the mental image that Bharuch was the constituency. Alarm bells ought to have rung when I was given telephone numbers of party candidates along with their STD codes, but I would put down the omission to travel fatigue. Realisation slowly dawned the first night when I managed to procure an appointment with Congress bossman Ahmed Patel, at Piraman village in Ankleshwar.
Being a newcomer, I had to of course rely on directions from others. I was told that it was a five-minute ride to Ankleshwar, and from there another 10 minutes to my destination. The journey took one hour, covering around 30 km each way, and cost me Rs 130 in all.
But the source of this nocturnal enlightenment, Ahmed Patel himself was not around. Piraman Bungalow is situated in a mohalla (lane), and redolent with the air of evening namaaz.wadi (a dwelling that used to accommodate the joint families of old).
Another brief auto-ride later, I reached the wadi, a setting that seemed five-starish to me, complete with huge wrought-iron gates, mystical gardens, and the like. Just to be sure, I double-checked with the guard that this was no hotel, but Patel's residence.
Patel, of course, was still out electioneering, but his secretary, Arif, was civility personified. It would be 0200 hours or so by the time he came back, so perhaps tomorrow I could be accommodated... But what could I possibly want to talk to Patel about anyway?
Despondent, I just about managed to find dinner before the city shut down, and returned to BJP headquarters at Kasak. At about 2230 hours, the place was still bustling with activity, with the foot-soldiers returning to file their reports, be debriefed, and freshen up for the next day's campaigning. Here, obviously, was a party that took its work seriously, the organisation converting itself into a Wehrmacht on election-eve.
The BJP's headquarters, renamed Vijewadi, is an interesting phenomenon. Before this, it was called Garodia Nagar and was a home for the elderly run by a charitable trust. The functionaries are put up in rooms meant for the old, which is perhaps apt, given the general age of the party's senior leadership. But surprisingly, their Bharuch candidate, Mansukh Vasava, is in his youthful 40s.
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