Muslims and Gujarat are an unpredictable mix. Deep down, a section of the community which hails its roots to this western state are unflinchingly loyal to everything Gujarati. Save, the political affiliation. The fact that 2002 is still fresh in mind and its doings narrate the horror each time a Biklis is wronged or a mosque stands threatened because of its historical disputes, it is the religious identity and not the cultural background which acts as the cohesive umbrella.
Little wonder then that Banaskantha’s Vadgam Congress MLA Jignesh Mewani is a busy man. This seat has 2.2 lakh voters with the majority 80,000 odd being Muslims and another 25,000 being Dalits. A sizeable 40,000 hail from the landed Thakor clans.
The Chelias, a chunk of Vadgam Muslims, mean to Gujarat what the ubiquitous dhaba walas mean to Punjab. This sub-caste runs the 2,500-odd roadside pure veg and non-veg eateries in the cities and highways of Gujarat. However, business keeps them away across the length and breadth of the state.
Mevani’s pre poll days, it is believed, were spent in convincing the 20,000 Chelias to return home and cast their ballot. That itself says which way the minority thinks, and therefore votes.
Incidentally, the Vadgam seat was won in 2017 by the then Independent Mevani who defeated both the BJP candidate by a huge margin. The Congress and the AAP did not contest this seat. Vadgam Assembly seat, part of Banaskantha district, falls under the Patan Lok Sabha constituency and is reserved for candidates belonging to the Scheduled Castes.
There is a bit of history to the seat. In 2017, sitting Congress MLA Manibhai Vaghela was denied a ticket to support Independent candidate Mevani. Earlier, he was elected on the Congress ticket to Vadgam in 2012.
As political dynamics played out, Mevani soon found himself a Congress insider while Vaghela knew his fortunes were clipped. In April this year, he joined the BJP. In the current elections, Mevani and Vaghela will also be fighting AAP’s popular local Dalit leader, Dalpat Bhatiya. Together, they fight AIMIM’s Kalpesh Sundhiya, who is expected to eat into the traditional Muslim and Dalit votes.
The 42-year-old firebrand leader recalls the dams built and the development done by Congress governments in the past to counter the BJP campaign that the party did nothing. “The BJP provides no justice to the poor and has done nothing for them in the past 27 years. In Morbi, 135 died in the bridge collapse and no case was registered against the rich person responsible for the tragedy,” he says.
As more people join in to listen, Mevani attacks the BJP for the release of 11 people convicted in the Bilkis Bano rape case. “They gang raped Bilkis and killed her three-year-old child. Now, the BJP has released the accused and is projecting them as sanskari (cultured). Is this right?” he questions.
The agrarian district is best known for Deesa potatoes and as being home to Ambaji temple, one of the 51 Shaktipeeths in India. While the BJP is riding high on the Rs 7,200 crore worth development projects in Ambaji including a broad gauge line, the Congress is harping on the administration’s failure in dealing with the lumpy skin disease outbreak and poor health infrastructure, as evidenced during the pandemic.