The residence of seven-time MLA and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) founder Chhotubhai Vasava in Vasna village of Gujarat‘s Bharuch district is unusually calm with very little activity, quite odd for someone contesting Assembly polls that are less than a week away. This time, Vasava is contesting as an independent from his traditional Jhagadia seat in the district, from where he has won seven times in a row.
The candidates of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), however, are slugging it out, hitting the ground, meeting voters, and seeking to wrest the seat held tightly by the septuagenarian leader for the last 32 years. “I don’t need to go out now. I don’t have to buy votes. My workers are campaigning for me, visiting villages. I know people in every village and their issues,” the 78-year-old leader told PTI.
In the past three decades, Congress as well as the BJP have ended up as runners-up in the battle against Vasava. The Congress won this seat, reserved for the tribal community, in 1985 — nearly four decades. Be it any party’s wave, Vasava held on to his bastion firmly, contesting either as an independent or a candidate of Janata Dal, Janta Dal (United) or BTP. But this time things are different, say his rivals. They look determined to snatch the seat from the ageing patriarch who holds sway in the tribal belt of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Two chief ministers – Bhagwant Mann (Punjab) and Yogi Adityanath (Uttar Pradesh), belonging to the AAP and BJP, respectively – have already campaigned for their candidates, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi also canvassing for the ruling party in this constituency speaks of the importance attached to the seat.But in the run-up to the next month’s polls, there was a twist in the tale. Vasava’s son and BTP president Mahesh Vasava entered the fray from Jhagadia as the party’s official candidate. Soon later, his father jumped into the poll arena as an independent, revealing the fissures in the family.
Finally, Mahesh, the sitting MLA from the Dediapada constituency, withdrew from the contest to avoid making it a father versus son fight. So now, the seat does not have any official candidate from the BTP.This time, the BTP initially tied up with the AAP only to walk out of the alliance.“I was never willing to ally with the AAP,” Chhotubhai Vasava said.
The BJP has fielded Ritesh Vasava (46), a former associate of Chhotubhai.The saffron party is also going all out to win this seat. UP CM Adityanath was among the star campaigners for the party that canvassed for him.“PM Narendra Modi will address a rally in Netrang tehsil (which is part of the Jhagadia seat) on November 27,” Ritesh said.He said education, health and roads will be at the top of his agenda if he is elected.
“I have worked with him (Chhotubhai) for 20 years, so I know how he works. The BJP has won the panchayat samitis in Jhagadia, Valia and Netrang (all three tehsils in the constituency), and it will also win this seat this time,” he said.The Congress has fielded Fatehsinhbhai Vasava, while the AAP’s Bharuch district president Urmila Bhagat is in the fray.
Bhagat is seeking votes on the assurances of 300 units of free electricity, Rs 3,000 unemployment allowance and Rs 1,000 allowance to women above the age of 18 years. Plus, the development in the areas of health and education, Bhagat added.But Chhotubhai Vasava looks unperturbed.“My support (among the tribals) has not receded,” he said.
Jhagadia goes to polling on December 1, in the first phase of the two-phased Assembly elections. With 2,58,955 voters, the economic activity of this area is largely around the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC).As one enters Vasna village, the roads are smooth. There are posters of BTP candidate Mahesh Vasava (who withdrew from the race later) in some houses.
Barely 100 meters from his residence lives Suresh Vasava, a 27-year-old agricultural labourer and father of three (one son and two daughters). Suresh said there is no water in his locality despite a tap that was recently provided.Suresh said he makes Rs 200 a day by working in the fields of others. He received money to build toilets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, but it is too small and water is an issue, so he goes out to relieve himself.Near him is 21-year-old Vishal Vasava, who will cast his vote for the first time in an assembly poll. Vishal could not clear his matriculation and works as an electrician in a company in the nearby GIDC and earns Rs 5,000. His main issue is there is no mobile network in his area which becomes a problem in an emergency.They did not specify their voting preference.
In Selod village, two friends — Bhavesh Vasava (a daily wage labourer) and Malik Salman (who runs a small eatery in the GIDC), both 28 — do not complain of any major lack of amenities. Bhavesh said he will vote for Chhotubhai, as always. Salman did not specify his voting preference but said the contest is tough as Chhotubhai has been an MLA for the last seven terms and there is a lot of anti-incumbency. Back in the main town of Jhagadia, a man, a BJP supporter, who runs an eatery said the saffron party candidate will trounce Chhotubhai, citing anti-incumbency.