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'People Call Me Dabang'

June 11, 2024 08:35 IST

'This is the victory of the people of Gujarat who want real development, not the hype of development.'

IMAGE: Geniben Thakor, who takes pride in calling herself a grassroots worker, campaigns on a bullock cart for her 2024 Lok Sabha election. All photographs: Kind courtesy Geniben Thakor/Instagram

Geniben Thakor created history when she defeated Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Dr Rekhaben Chaudhari in the 2024 Lok Sabha election from Banaskantha by 30,406 votes. It was the first Lok Sabha seat the Congress had won in Gujarat since 2009.

The 48-year-old two-time Congress MLA from Gujarat's Vav was labellled 'giant killer' after her victory against Banas Dairy chairperson Shankar Choudhary, a powerful dairy co-operative magnate, by 6,600 votes in 2017 and later when she defeated the BJP's Swarupbhai Thakor in the 2022 state assembly election when her party faced its biggest rout in the state winning just 17 of the 182 assembly segments.

"I am just an ordinary Congress worker, an ordinary servant of the people, who has dedicated her life for espousing the Congress ideology and working for the poorest of the poor people of my state," the arts graduate from Jain Vishwa Bharati Institute tells Prasanna D Zore/

The Congress opened its account in a Lok Sabha election in Gujarat after 10 years. What factors helped you and the Congress win the Banaskantha seat?

I have been a grassroots worker of the Congress and have 20 years of political and social experience working in the field, among the people belonging to all the sections on Gujarat. My work has helped me earn the love and respect of the people of Gujarat and Banaskantha.

All our party leaders and cadres worked under tremendous difficult situations in Gujarat to win the Banaskantha seat. It is not that Geniben Thakor has won; the people of Banaskantha have won; this is the victory of the people of Gujarat who want real development, not the hype of development.

For decades now, our local leaders have raised issues that matter to the people of Gujarat before the state government and ensured that their problems are resolved. Each and every Congress person has been working diligently on the ground and won the love of the people.

IMAGE: Geniben Thakor worships at the Arasuri Ambaji Mata temple, which is one among the 51 Shakti Peethas in India.

It has been widely reported that you crowd-funded your election as you were short of funds. How much money did you collect through crowd-funding and what were your expenses in this election?

I am really very grateful to the people of Banaskantha and to everybody who contributed money to fund my election expenses. This victory wouldn't have been possible without their help.

I had told my party leaders that I will fight this Lok Sabha election but don't have the financial resources for that.

My party workers, Congress leaders and people of my constituency assured me that I don't need money to win this election but also assured to help me financially in their individual capacity. That assurance gave me strength to not worry too much about money and focus on raising people's issues during my campaign.

I was assured not just of financial assistance but their votes also.

Our election management committee took care of all the money that was collected and spent. They would be in a better position to give you the exact figures. But we have been very transparent about the money we collected and spent. Every penny is accounted for.

While the election management committee will be in a position to share these detail I can tell you that we won this election by spending a very small amount.

How do you feel when you get labelled 'Giant Killer'?

It is true that people call me a giant killer. People also call me 'dabang' (fearless). I am no giant killer. I am just an ordinary Congress worker, an ordinary servant of the people, who has dedicated her life for espousing Congress ideology and working for the poorest of the poor people of my state.

I lost my first assembly election from Vav in 2012 but won the same seat twice in 2017 and 2022 when the BJP won a record number of assembly seats in the state.

I believe in working for the people and with the people. Geniben Thakor is nobody without the love and support of the people of Banaskantha and Gujarat.

I have done this from the beginning of my political career and I will continue to do my work in the same vein.

The Congress has won one Lok Sabha seat in 2024 since 2009 when your party had won nine Lok Sabha seats. How big is your victory for the revival of the Congress in Gujarat?

It is not just Gujarat but the Congress has revived itself across India. I can assure the people of Gujarat that the Congress will be forming the next government in Gujarat. The faith of the people of Gujarat in Congress gives me hope that we will form the next government in Gujarat.

We may have won just one Lok Sabha seat in Gujarat but our vote share is good (it stood at more than 31 per cent. In 2019 it stood at 32.6 per cent but the Congress couldn't win any seats).

Our vote share and number of seats will only increase manifold in the days ahead and after the 2027 Gujarat assembly elections we will form the next government in Gujarat.

The people of Gujarat showed tremendous faith in the BJP in 2014 and 2019 giving them all 26 Lok Sabha seats but were disappointed with the performance of the Narendra Modi government in these 10 years of his misgovernance.

Unemployment today stands at a 45-year high, prices of essentials like food grains, vegetates, fuel, cooking gas saw a huge jump denting the spending capacity of the people. Cost of education, health services has gone up too.

The BJP will now have to understand that they just can't win people's faith in the name of Prabhu Shri Ram. They have to work on the ground and solve the everyday issues of the people of Gujarat.

What were the main issues that you fought the 2024 Lok Sabha elections on and what important issues do you plan to raise in Parliament as Banaskantha MP?

Our main election plank was providing potable water for the people of my constituency and enough water and electricity for the farmers.

We also raised other important issues -- and found them resonating among the people -- like security of women in the state, the rising cost of medical services, day-to-day essentials, higher education, local employment opportunities, and how the Narendra Modi government failed to deliver the benefits of all the central schemes for the people of Gujarat. We will ensure that the benefits of central government schemes now reach the people of Gujarat.

I will be raising these very issues as an MP from Banaskantha. In addition, the Congress in Gujarat has its eyes and ears open and we will continue to raise whatever issues the people of Gujarat will ask us to highlight in Parliament.

Would you feel that Prime Minister Modi talking about the 'Congress taking away one buffalo if you have two buffaloes' didn't work for the BJP in Banaskantha?

Such statements from Narendra Modi not only boomeranged against the BJP in Banaskantha but all over India.

The people of India expect their prime minister to talk about development, infrastructure, employmet opportunities, setting up of new industries, bringing in investments and building factories but they were very much disappointed by the way Prime Minister Modi ran his campaign on divisive agendas.

The prime minister should not have used such language during the election campaign.

IMAGE: Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra campaigns for Geniben Thakor.

Did Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's campaign help you cement your victory?

The people of Gujarat have tremendous faith in the leadership of Soniaji, Rahulji and have immense love and respect for Priyankaji. The fact that in every campaign Priyankaji exhorted people to vote for their own benefits, to vote for a party that would ensure your social and economic safety and security mobilised the people of Banaskantha.

With her honest, heart-to-heart connection with the people through her public addresses Priyankaji won the hearts of the people of India.