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For Keshubhai, farmers' issues are important
Sheela Bhatt in Rapar, Kutch |
December 12, 2002 06:25 IST
He is the only man who can teach a lesson or two to the caretaker Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi.
At his rallies, former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, 73, did not speak against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, terrorism, Godhra or Gujarat's 'lost pride'.
His also did not mention the name of Modi, because of whom he was removed in an undignified manner in October 2001.
At his election meetings, which were devoid of the hype that usually surrounded the ones held by Modi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, he spoke the language of farmers.
He talked about the procurement rate of peanuts and jeera; assured that until the Congress-ruled states did not charge for the electricity used for irrigation, the BJP too would dole out free power to farmers.
The peasants were delighted when the former chief minister told them that the BJP government would help them sell 25 peanuts for Rs25.
On December 8, in Rapar, Kutch, when he said in a rally that 'people in the west eat jeera-rice; we will market your jeera and get good prices for them', the farmers seemed to believe him.
He said, "In foreign countries, because of the severe cold, people suffer from indigestion. Gujarat has the solution to help them improve their system. My government will market your isabgol."
The BJP leader, himself a farmer, knew that Gujarat was a big producer of isabgol and jeera.
Keshubhai, who joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh almost 50 years ago, represents a fading clan of Gujarati leaders.
He was asked to come and help maintain the party's hold over the Patel community. He almost saved a losing game within the party by getting a sufficient chunk of tickets for his supporters.
A politician trying hard to prop up the falling fortunes of the BJP in his native Saurashtra, Keshubhai told the Patels that "if you vote for the BJP, it would only strengthen me".
Barring Modi, he was the only state leader who was allowed to use a helicopter for electioneering.
According to a BJP source, the party will lose heavily in Saurashtra and Kutch. An internal survey conducted by the BJP said out of the 58 constituencies in the regions, the Congress will bag around 20-25.
There is a strong anti-incumbency wave in these two regions, where the Congress had won only six seats in the last elections.
In these two regions, Muslims dominate four assemblies -- Abdasa, Mundra [both Kutch], Vankaner and Dhoraji [both Saurashtra]. In other seats either Patels or Kolis (Other Backward Community) are influential.
Saurashtra is traditionally not communal and there is Hindu-Muslim harmony here. The issue here is not Godhra, but pani-vijli [water and electricity].
In spite of Keshubhai's presence, the BJP is unlikely to retain many seats here because of two reasons: First, many "corrupt" ministers and legislators have been given tickets again. Secondly, because of the infighting in the party.
As expected, he defended his party. Asked about the Congress' strategy in Saurashtra, he told rediff.com, "Congress is putting up the show. It is hiring cars and trucks and collecting crowds. Unlike the BJP, it does not have village-level workers. I think the Congress is not able to reach out to villagers."
Asked about the impressive crowd that Gandhi was able to attract, he said, "People are going to her rally with some kind of curiosity. So what? In 1995 and 1998 people attended Congress rallies, but they did not vote for it. This time also they won't."
He added: "It is wrong to say that there is no pro-BJP wave. Tell me why around 8,000 to 10,000 people attend my meetings, and that too at the village level? I talk of positive issues and people listen."
He insisted that the BJP would get votes because it got the Narmada waters to Saurashtra.
"We are talking about 45 years of Congress versus 45 months of our development work, he said.
Asked about his rival Modi's insistence on talking about Hindutva, he said, "It is in our heart. There is no need to talk about Hindutva in the election."
In public he said Modi would be the chief minister if the BJP retains power. Even his supporters told rediff.com: "Modi is going to be around for some time, we think."
Asked if the people wanted him to be the chief minister again, he said, "People have been saying it for long, but party should think about it."
On second thoughts, he asked me to record another sentence and said, "In this election, Narendra Modi is our leader, and the party has decided that he will become the CM."