Ashrafbhai Pathan, a portly man in his late 40s, just can't stop praising Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who has variously been termed Maut ka saudagar, anti-Muslim, the man who let Gujarat burn in 2002 and other unprintable things by scores of critics. However, Pathan is not among them. In fact, he prays that Modi gets re-elected in 2012. And again in 2017 if he doesn't move to the national stage by then.
"Maine namak khaya hai, jhoot nahi boloonga (I am indebted to him, I will not lie)," says Pathan, as he holds forth with half a score villagers in Rasulpura where he has made a fortune, thanks to Modi rolling out the red carpet to Ratan Tata and his Nano dream project.
Pathan made a cool Rs 40 crore when he sold a huge tract of contiguous land to the Gujarat Industrial Development Board for promoting and attracting foreign as well as domestic investments into Gujarat's Sanand taluka in Ahmedabad district.
Sanand is just about 35 km from Ahmedabad, where Pathan, thanks to the windfall, has now emerged as a builder in his own right.
Try reminding Pathan about what critics say about Modi and his role in the post-Godhra riots of 2002, and he pretends to be deaf and mute. "There is nobody in the nation today of Narendrabhai's stature," he counters those who criticise Modi.
"Post-independence, no man has done as much for Gujarat as he has done," he continues, ignoring the barbs at his favourite 'Gujarati' leader.
"If Sanand today has more than 200 or more crorepatis it is because of his decision to bring the Nano (which he pronounces as 'Neno') here," he states firmly, summing up the financial fortune that Tata's small car brought to the state.
Pathan was born and brought up in Rajasthan's Pali district but he, his elder brother and their family moved to Gujarat soon after his birth. "Rajasthan is my matrubhoomi and Gujarat is my karmabhoomi," Ashrafbhai adds.
"This entire stretch would be under water from June till about the onset of Diwali," he says, pointing towards a piece of land that once belonged to him. "Ask any Gujarati today what Narendra Modi means to them and the future of the next generation and hear them articulate about Modi's achievements and vision," he says even as the crowd around him slowly increases to hear him expound Modi's feats.
Among Pathan's listeners is Dharmendra Solanki, who begs to differ. Coming from a middle class family, Solanki thinks Modi has failed to clip the wings of escalating cost of education and healthcare and the failing effectiveness of consumer courts.
"If Narendra Modi comes to power again he must concentrate on these three areas," says Solanki, grudgingly acknowledging that defeating Modi in Gujarat in 2012 will be impossible.
"The Congress doesn't have anybody in Gujarat today who can match Modi's stature and vision," he explains.
Solanki also laments that Modi has failed to curb the consumption of alcohol although it is prohibited in the state. "There is corruption too at very many places, including in government offices," he says, offering a view completely at variance with Pathan's.
Not one to take things lying down, Pathan pulls a fast one on Dharmendra with an anecdote. "My uncle twice won the Rajasthan assembly elections. But, he wasn't a good leader and spent his two terms promoting his relatives and their relatives. When he ran for the third time the people decided to teach him a lesson. They welcomed my uncle with tomatoes and eggs. 'Please vent your anger at me by throwing whatever you have but don't forget to elect me for the third time. While I agree that I spent the first two terms looking after the wellbeing of my relatives and their relatives, it is your time to benefit this time', the uncle told the people," recalls Pathan.
While he never asked his uncle what the outcome of that meeting was, Pathan wants Solanki to draw parallels from the anecdote. "This time Narendrabhai would do what the ordinary people want from him," he says.
Pathan sums up the conversation with, "Allah Narendra Modi ka bhala kare (May Allah bless Narendra Modi)."
Image: Ashrafbhai Pathan (right) with his cousin in Sanand, Gujarat
Photograph: Reuben N V/Rediff.com