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Home > Election > Report

Water is the issue in Rajkot-II

R Swaminathan in Rajkot | December 08, 2002 22:37 IST

A midriff baring and sexily pouting Shilpa Shetty flirts with you from the walls of Rajkot when you are all prepared to make eye contact with Narendra Modi and Shankarsinh Vaghela.

That, in essence, is the mood in Rajkot-II constituency a few days before the much-hyped assembly election.

But problems being problems, they just refuse to go away; and people being people, they ultimately pour their hearts out.

The first response to any query is a polite "take a hike", but in sugar-coated phrases. But if you were a little persistent, there would soon be a tide of litanies.

Water, rather the lack of it, is the talk of the town.

Razzak, a resident of Jangleshwar [Rajkot's very own mini-Pakistan], says his house gets 20 minutes of water supply every day. And it is at the mercy of the Rajkot Municipal Corporation babus. The erratic supply has come to haunt his family so much that every night one of the family members sleeps next to the bathroom with the door and taps open.

Maybe this is a new ploy to harass the minorities, I thought to myself, and promptly proceeded to Yagnik Road in the heart of the city.

Nilesh Desai, who owns a stationary shop, echoes Razzak and short of uttering the f*** word roundly abuses all politicians. And he isn't surprised by the lack of enthusiasm among the electorate.

But Vajubhai Vala, BJP candidate and Finance and Revenue Minister in the caretaker government, has a different story to tell, one that Kashmira Nathwani, the Congress candidate, rubbishes.

The BJP candidate says that the government, on his initiative, went out of its way to complete the project to provide water to the "parched throats of Rajkot". He claims that originally the canal supplying Narmada waters to Rajkot was to have five-metre-high sidewalls. He says the project design envisaged supply of greater volumes of water, which is necessary for agricultural purposes. But, he claims, when he argued that Rajkot is a city and does not have farms, the government agreed to lower the sidewalls by four metres. As a result, Vala claims, less time was taken to complete the project and the government saved precious money. By March next year the city will get 350,000 gallons of water from the canal, he adds.

But Nathwani laughs away his claims. She says the only reason the height of the walls was reduced was because Vala and his cronies had siphoned off the money meant for the project. And on top of it, water from the Aji reservoir, which gets it supply from the 70-odd borewells outside Rajkot, was passed off as Narmada water, she claims.

"Those who have earned their millions selling ittars [perfumes] are the least qualified to talk about corruption," one of Vala's associate retaliates. Nathwani's father-in-law, Valjibhai, has a cosmetics factory.

Rajkot currently gets around 300,000 gallons of water from the Aji, Nihari and Badar reservoirs, which are fed by the 70-odd borewells. But the borewells have created a different set of problems. Farmers in the surrounding areas growing water-intensive cash crops like cotton and oilseeds complain that their yields are going down every year because of the depleting water level.

And that is bad news for the BJP, which considers the farmers, many of them Patels, its votebank. Jagdish Patel, Nathwani's campaign manager and funds collector, claims that oil mill owners and rich farmers are returning to the Congress by droves. He says that ever since Modi took over from Keshubhai, the oilseed farmers and mill owners are getting a raw deal.

"Under Keshubhai the price of the oilseeds was kept high and there was an organised way of supplying oil to the market, which also kept the mill owners happy. But with Modi, all the systems have been done away with and oil mills are on the verge of closure," he said.

A look at the caste dynamics reveals how important the Patel votebank is. While Patels constitute around 25,000 voters, Lohanas, Nathwani's caste, are around 20,000. Muslims constitute 22,000 voters and Vaniyas around 20,000. The Brahmins are 20,000-strong. While the Lohanas and Muslims have been Congress supporters, the Patels, and more recently the Brahmins, have gone for the BJP. A disgruntled Patel community can sound the death knell for the saffron party.

But this does not mean that the Congress and Nathwani are home. Though Nathwani is facing Vala, Congress insiders say the real fight is between her and her father, Chiman Shukla, an RSS veteran and Vala's political adviser. He was one of the two Jan Sangh candidates to have made it to the assembly in 1967 during the Congress wave.

Asked about the behind the scene skirmishes with her father, Nathwani says, "He has his own politics and I have mine. He is my father, but I am with the Congress family. I have the backing of a party that is over 100 years old. Let the results come and you will know everything."

Vala, however, obviously enjoys aiming at this chink in the armour of his opponent. "It is to my advantage. He [Chiman Shukla] is a very principled man. Whether it is his daughter or son, he has taken up cudgels against the Congress and he will not stop till it is destroyed."

The BJP has another problem. One that is being bandied about the most is the "betrayal" by sitting MLA Narendra Modi, who has opted to contest from Maninagar this time.

Rubbing it in, Nathwani, addressing a small gathering in Vaishali Colony, says, "He has stabbed in the back the people of Rajkot. Now is the time to pay back the betrayer by throwing him out."

Vala tries explaining Modi's decision. "He has already told the people of Rajkot that he fought his first-ever election from here and this city will always occupy a special place in his heart. In fact, he said that they can consider him their lifelong representative."

As the sun goes down and you walk away from the political battleground, your sights zero in on the umpteen brands of borewells being advertised across the city. Maybe, this is the only reason why Rajkot still retains the tag of an industrial city.


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