Old rivals — BJP’s Babu Bokhiria and Congress’ Arjun Modhwadia — are again contesting against each other in the coastal constituency of Porbandar where the fishing community holds the key. Both the leaders are considered to be strongmen in the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi. Both of them have earlier defeated each other once. The Congress is leaving nothing to chance in its bid to woo the fishing community in Gujarat but Porbandar is expected to see a tight-battle between it and the ruling BJP. Both Bokhiria and Modhwadia belong to the Mer community. Other than the Mer and fishing community, which have the strength of around 70,000 and 30,000, Brahmins and Lohanas, the merchant caste, account for around 50,000 and 20,000 votes, respectively. But it is the fishing community which could ultimately decide who will emerge as the winner from Porbandar.
The support from the fishing community remains a deciding factor, with both BJP and Congress campaigning aggressively and claiming that they have the community’s support. Bokhiria, the present MLA, had also served as a cabinet minister in the Gujarat government. After serving for two consecutive terms, Modhwadia had faced drubbing at the hands of Bokhiria in 2012 by a margin of around 17,000 votes. This time, the Congress nominee campaigned hard to regain the lost ground. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on October 2 visited the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi to mark his birth anniversary. He had addressed another rally in the same constituency on November 27. His interaction with fishermen community has renewed hope for Congress, which has promised to address concerns raised by the fishing community across Gujarat.
It has promised to increase their quota of subsidised kerosene to run their trawlers and set up a separate fisheries ministry if voted to power. Modhwadia campaigned among the community members by highlighting the “injustices” done by the BJP governments, both at the state and at the Centre. He also highlighted what was done by the UPA government for the fishing community, which included providing subsidies on purchase of mechanised boats. “The Centre stopped relief packages announced by the UPA government for the kin of fishermen kidnapped by Pakistani agencies while fishing in international maritime water limits,” claimed Modhwadia. “The UPA government had also offered Rs 11.25 lakh subsidy to buy new boats, and Rs 8.75 lakh bank loan at easy interest and Rs 100 daily allowance till the fishermen stayed in the Pakistan jails,” Modhwadia claimed. He further claimed that the BJP-led Central government reduced quota of subsidised kerosene to 30 litres from 250 litres.
But Bokhiria was quick to reject claims made by the Congress nominee. “The fishing community has no complaints from the BJP government. All their concerns have been addressed, and they are firmly with us,” claims Bokhiria. He also said the Gujarat government had announced a special Diwali package for fishermen which included diesel subsidy worth Rs 189 crore. “For the first time we have announced 150 litre monthly kerosene to the small fishermen, and a subsidy of Rs 25 per litre. Even during the last elections (2012), I had received their support,” he claimed. Bokhiria said as the MLA, he managed to bring in development project worth Rs 5,000-crore here which changed the face of the city and rural area. Modhwadia contests this, saying that city infrastructure is in shambles. Modhwadia had won on this seat in 2002, defeating the then two-times MLA Bokhiria, and went on to win again in 2007, before Bokhiria made a come back in 2012. Polling in the Porbandar constituency will be held tomorrow.