His hands outstretched, Maganbhai Solanki holds up his moustache and says proudly that it measures almost five feet tip to tip – the carefully tended feature the Independent candidate’s calling card and also a campaign point.
The 57-year-old contestant from Himatnagar seat in Sabarkantha district retired from the Army as an honorary lieutenant in 2012 and has a ready ask from the state government.
”Whoever grows a moustache, the government should pay some amount for its maintenance,” Solanki told PTI.
He would also urge the state government to bring in a law to inspire the youth of Gujarat to grow moustache if elected.
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”In the Army, I got a special allowance to maintain my moustache. I was known as moochwala in my regiment. My moustache is my pride. It makes me stand out in the crowd,” Solanki said.
As he seeks votes at a market in Himatnagar, his luxuriant moustache is indeed the focus of much attention.
”Moochein ho to inki jaisi, warna na ho,” said a voter quoting a famous dialogue from Amitabh Bachchan starrer “Sharaabi”.
Solanki knows he doesn’t have much chance in wresting Himatnagar from the BJP and says candidly that he contests elections because he loves to and has been doing so since the 2017 assembly elections in the state.
”I was then a candidate of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). I lost but did not give up. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, I contested as an Independent. This time also I am contesting as an Independent,” he told PTI.
Solanki claims he served at different frontiers – west, east and north. And is pleased his moustache garners attention wherever he goes.
”When I was in the Army, my moustache used to attract attention as senior officers always admired it. When I am contesting elections, people get amused seeing my moustache. Children come out and try to touch it, while youngsters ask for tips on how to grow such a moustache,” he said.
Besides the moustache trend he would like to see catch on, Solanki says he will raise issues pertaining to ex-service personnel if elected.
”I have been fighting for the rights of ex-service personnel as jawans these days retire early due to policy changes. Most of them are jobless after they retire at the age of 45-46. Earlier, the retired jawans would get re-employed in government offices… now that has also stopped.” Apart from his family members, some retired Army personnel who are his friends are also campaigning for him.
Solanki was inspired by his father to grow a moustache. By the time he joined the Army at the age of 19, he had a long moustache. And today, it measures 2.5 feet on each side, he claims.
The BJP has fielded Virendrasinh Zala from Himatnagar, the Congress has nominated Kamleshbhai Patel, and the new poll entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has given the ticket to Nirmalsinh Parmar.
Unemployment is a major issue in the area and the BJP, Congress and AAP have promised to bring industries to the region if voted to power.
His opponents from the AAP, Congress and the BJP do not attach much importance to his candidature.
The irrepressible Solanki also says he won’t give up till he wins an election.
”We were taught in the Army not to give up until the last bullet and the last drop of blood. The first time when I contested, I got 1,000 votes, the second time it was around 2,500 votes. This time I hope to improve my tally.” Himatnagar in Sabarkantha district is considered one of the safest seats of the saffron camp.
With around 2,80,000 voters, the Scheduled Caste comprises nearly 11 per cent, whereas the Scheduled Tribes comprise nearly 3 per cent, Muslims 3.2 per cent, while Patels, Rajputs, and Kshatriyas comprise the rest of the electorate.
Voting is underway on Thursday in the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections in 89 seats. The remaining 93 seats, including Himatnagar, will go to the polls on December 5.
The votes will be counted on December 8.