Kutiyana: The BJP seeks votes in the name of Narendra Modi but ”will you call up the prime minister over issues in your village”, asks incumbent MLA Kandhal Jadeja as a small crowd cheers the strongman politician’s pitch to re-elect him to get things done locally and not depend on Delhi.
As the highway winds down to India’s border on the western coast, the buzz about who will form the next government in Gujarat gives way to whether the political dominance of ‘bhai’, as Jadeja is often referred to, will continue in this largely rural assembly segment.
Son of Santokben Jadeja whose criminal enterprise had spawned the Hindi film ‘Godmother’, he himself is an accused in numerous serious criminal cases but claims that they belong to the past and that people vote for him due to his accessibility and work.
He has been among a handful of state MLAs who have been winning on the strength of their personal appeal in the last two polls in an otherwise heavily bipolar electoral scene in the state, unaffected by larger political trends.
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It is not ‘takat ka jod’ (use of force) but ‘ekta ka jod’ (power of unity), Jadeja tells PTI while pointing to the crowd of people around him when asked about the charge of intimidatory tactics against him, and then adds that big parties oppose him as he ”lives” in people’s hearts.
Across the constituency, there are people who admire him for his ready willingness to help them and push development work but many also admit that he is not the one to take any opposition kindly.
Kutiyana is part of Gujarat’s Porbandar district, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. It is alleged that Jadeja’s parents used to run a criminal enterprise, which flourished on smuggling and violence, in the port region before police action weakened the gang.
Porbandar, though, is a separate assembly constituency in the district.
His father Sarman Munja Jadeja was shot dead by rivals, drawing his mother in the charge of the family’s alleged crime syndicate. She was elected as an MLA from Kutiyana in 1990.
Having won in the last two polls on the Nationalist Congress Party’s ticket, Kandhal Jadeja is contesting as Samajwadi Party’s candidate after the NCP denied him renomination at its ally Congress’ behest because of his support to the ruling BJP on several issues, including in the crucial Rajya Sabha polls.
This has also helped him in getting development projects implemented in his constituency, locals say, adding that ‘Kandhal bhai’ believes in getting things done and is not much concerned with the manners of it.
He, himself, does not deny such a suggestion. ”Kaam ke liye thoda idhar udhar karta hun. Kaam hai to naam hai. (I do bend things a little for work. If work is done, then you are recognised),” he says.
And that is why, Jadeja adds, he does not join big parties like the BJP or the Congress.
”In big parties you have to follow rules. But I do not believe in following rules but getting my work done,” he says.
Though candidates of the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party are also contesting against him, BJP’s Dheliben Odedara is seen as his main challenger.
Odedara is the local municipal body chairperson and has portrayed herself as a woman of courage who has dared to take on Jadeja.
She is also his distant relative and hopes to walk away with a share of votes from the Maher community, who are in large numbers in Kutiyana.
There is also a view among locals that Jadeja may be a strongman but is also a crafty political operator who has maintained good ties with the BJP and the Congress.
Many local Congress workers are supporting him as they know that a win for Jadeja is one seat less for the BJP, many people in the constituency say.
Jadeja himself is keen to keep himself out of the BJP vs the Congress battle.
”My only focus is ‘vikas’ of my constituency. I don’t care about what is happening elsewhere,” he says.
Asked about his take on the likely assembly poll outcome, he again throws a googly, saying no party may get a majority. So who will he support? ”Whichever party ensures ‘vikas’ of my constituency,” he says.