It is common knowledge in Gujarat that Congress leaders and legislators are being whisked away by the BJP, but there are at least three BJP leaders in the State who have lodged an open fight for supremacy of the Koli community that decides the fate of electoral candidates in 32 seats largely in the Saurashtra region.
The Kolis have their epicentre in Saurashtra region and estimated to constitute 22% percent of Gujarat’s voters. They are 35% in the Surendranagar district in the region.
With former minister Purshottam Solanki, considered a Koli leader being out of action because of ill-health, three leading BJP Koli leaders have come out in the open against one another.
First is the rather capricious former BJP MP Devji Fatehpura from Surendranagar, who has a distinguished presence in the All India Koli Samaj. Then it is Kunvarjibhai Mohanbhai Bavaliya, a senior Congress leader who defected to the BJP and was made a minister of water supply, animal husbandry, rural housing in the outgoing Vijay Rupani Government. The latest is Union Minister of State for Child Welfare and Women and AYUSH, Dr. Mahendra Kalubhai Munjpara, who was inducted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his last Cabinet reshuffle.
And now in an open fight, Fatehpura has challenged Bavaliya in home turf Rajkot that in the 54 Saurashtra seats, the Koli community would take a call about the “leadership.” Announcing a no-entry to Bavaliya and Munjpura, he stated that he would call a convention of the community soon and these two senior leaders won’t be invited there. Stating that the Kolis vote en masse and their turnout is usually 80%, he said, “If one rides on the community tide, then the collective ebb can drown you as well.”
“I am going to convene a convention of the Koli community in Surendranagar in the coming days,” Devji Fatehpura told reporters.
The open rift between Devji Fatehpara and Kunwarji Bawaliya is not helping matters. Neither will the exclusion of Mahendra Munjpara from the convention make it easier for the fisherfolk, who are largely an enterprising but unlettered lot.
Speaking to VO! about Devji’s “ no-entry sign” for Kunwarji at the convention, the latter stated: “No comments.” When contacted, the state secretary of the All India Koli Samaj, Chandravadan Pithawala added: “As much as a collective leadership can direct our upward mobility, a fragmented decision-making body will leave the Kolis without any strong voice to represent concerns. This is why we have regressed in the past three decades.”
Community old-timers trace Devji’s anger to the BJP leadership denying him a ticket in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Surendranagar though he was a sitting MP. The ticket was given to Dr Munjpara, who defeated a veteran Congress candidate by a huge margin. Munjpura is now a union minister of state, Kunwarji Bavaliya, who left the Congress after years of association, is out of the Cabinet and faces an identity crisis of sorts after leaving the Congress, and Fatehpura is looking for a comeback.
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