The day Sadbhavna Manch invaded Gariadhar

In a village that has no love lost for the BJP, three-time MLA and saffron renegade Kanubhai Kalsaria raises the tempo for Sadbhavna Manch. We soak in the festive, pre-poll atmosphere


Brajesh Kumar | December 11, 2012

Sadbhavna chief Kanubhai Kalsaria doing the rounds of the constituency fvrom where he is contesting this time around.
Sadbhavna chief Kanubhai Kalsaria doing the rounds of the constituency fvrom where he is contesting this time around.

It’s a matter of hours now for the election on December 13, but the major political parties are yet to come to this village in Mahuva. Barring a small community meeting held by Sadbhavna Manch candidate Bharat Thakar and another by Anirudh Jadeja, a Gujarat Lok Samiti member and Sadbhavna Manch supporter, there has been no other meeting in the village.

Therefore, speculating on the date of the next big rally by the local favourite since the ‘battle’ against the proposed factory by Nirma, Sadbhavna Manch chief Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria, has become the favourite pastime for the villagers.

The rally was to be held in one of the five constituencies from where Sadbhavna candidates are contesting. “It will be held soon but we don’t know when,” says Bharat Shiyal, the village sarpanch.

But the fog of doubt soon cleared with word reaching the village that Kalsaria will hold the rally on December 8 in Gariadhar, from where he was himself contesting. And he wants the entire village to attend the rally, locals said, excitedly.

“Saheb (as Kalsaria is known in the region) wants us to be there, and we will be there in numbers,” says Khimji Bambhania, 27, a farmer and a “hardcore Kanubhai supporter”. Khimji is parta group of young men in the village who have been religiously campaigning for Kalsaria and his party. On one occasion this band of Dugheri boys had gone to Rajula (one of the five constituencies), campaigning door to door, following it up the next day with a visit to Mahuva town, soliciting support for Sadbhavna Manch.

Back in the village, two trucks, locally known as ‘khatara’, are hired to take the villagers to Gariadhar. On the eve of the rally there is feverish excitement in the village. While the entire village wants to attend, not all can go, with some having to stay back to take care of their homes. Kanji Bhalia, a 30-year-old kirana store owner has a difficult time convincing his younger brother Bharat, that being the older one, it was he who should go to the rally. Bharat, though not convinced about Kanji’s reasoning, agrees eventually on the condition that Kanji would run the shop himself over the next few days. The compromise reached, Kanji is happy. “I cannot miss this rally,” he tells me.

“You will also come?” he asks me. Of course, I have to, I tell him.

‘Why a khatara when you can drive a Zen?’
The next day I reach the village at 11 in the morning. The khataras, I am told, would leave in the next half hour. I was hoping to hop on to one of the khataras along with Kanji, Khimji, Yamji and other youngsters. I didn’t want to drive 100 km to Gariadhar in my car.

As I enter the village I see the two khataras parked near the primary school, and to me bewilderment, find most of the space in both of them occupied. While women and children have clambered atop one of the khatara, the other has been occupied by men and the village elderly.

 “Would you take some of the boys with you in the car?” asks Bharat, the village sarpanch, pouring a cold bucketful of water on my desire to board the khatara myself. “Oh yes, of course I would,” I murmur, trying hard to hide my disappointment.

 “So who would come with me,” I ask. “Kanji, Yamji, and Dhanji want to go with you,” replies the sarpanch. These three young men were the first set of friends I had made in the village, and it seemed like Bharat was aware of this fact.

As I turn around to locate them, I see all three standing by my car with a wide grin on their faces. “So you guys want to come along with me?” I ask them. “Of course! Why would we want to travel on the khatara, when we can travel with you! Also there is no space in both the khataras,” they tell me.  At 11.30, we set off, my friends from the village, my Maruti Zen and I.
Walking advertisements, what a campaign strategy!
Gariadhar is a small town in Bhavnagar district. It is a new assembly segment carved out of Mahuva (after the delimitation exercise). Historically, this area has been a BJP stronghold since 1995. The party has nominated the four time MLA from Sihor (this constituency has been eliminated) Keshubhai Nankaria as their official candidate. Being a patel, Nankaria has some pockets of influence here. Kanubhai, the three time MLA from Mahuva (on BJP ticket) chose to contest the elections from here as more than 60 villages from Mahuva went to Gariadhar in the delimitation exercise.

The town seems very much like Mahuva. Albeit smaller in size, it has congested roads with shops on the ground floor and residences on the upper floors. Most of the shops boast BJP flags which stand stuck in their corners. Posters with BJP candidate Keshubhai on one side and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on the other side are plastered all over the town and amidst the saffron overdose, there are a few posters of Sadbhavna Manch too.

We ask around for the Sadbhavna Manch office and are directed towards the town bus stand. Right ahead, opposite the police station, we find a huge poster of Sadbhavna Manch, and know we have arrived at the party office, which is a garage like room inside a small market complex.. Inside there are a few party workers slouching on mattresses spread on the floor. At the far end Sadbhavna chief Kanubhai is lying down, a small siesta before the day’s activities.. He along with his supporters (including those from Dugheri) will go around town meeting people soliciting their support, I am told.

The khataras from Dugheri arrive almost one hour after we reach Gariadhar. Along with Dugheri, people from other Mahuva villages—Wanger, Padhiyarka, Dudhala, Dolia—arrive too. By three in the afternoon, the party office is swarming with people.

Meanwhile my co-passengers Yamji, Kanji, Dhanji, have grabbed a Sadbhavna flag each with white party scarves to go around their necks. I spot women from Dugheri too. Kadvi Ben, a 50-year-old woman from the village amongst many others has a ‘ghada’ (an earthen pot, the party symbol of Sadbhavna) on their heads. They will be a walking advertisement for the party. What a brilliant campaign strategy!

The rally starts at about 4pm. “We will go around town in a single file with Kanubhai in front. The supporters will follow him with Sadbhavna flags and banners in their hands,” shared a party worker. Somewhere in the middle there was also to be a vehicle with a loudspeaker manned by party workers who would introduce the party and its candidate to the voters of Gariadhar.
As the procession moves around town, people line the streets to check out for themselves the new party and its candidate. Kanubhai the party candidate moves from shop to shop shaking hands with the shop-owners. His white kurta pyjama with his matching white hair makes for an elegant ensemble. As he enters a shop, its owner stands up with a polite smile on his face to greet him. Kanubhai too smiles and extends his hand forward, moving out to get into another shop and repeat the same action. The 57-year-old surgeon from Mahuva is unusually swift and nimble. Some shop owners whisper something into his ears and Kanubhai nods. Women and children stand in balconies above the shops watching Kanubhai and his supporters walk below.

The queue behind Kanubhai extends up to a kilometer. Walking in a single file they shout slogans like ‘Hamara neta kaisa ho, Kanubhai jaisa ho’ and ‘Kanubhai tum aage badho, Hum tumhare saath hain’. In an hour or so after the rally had started, it seems like Sadbhavna Manch has invaded the town. While the town had heard about the philanthropic doctor MLA, they were seeing him for the first time. “I have heard a lot about him”, says Mohammad Yusuf, an owner of one of the shops here. “So will Gariadhar vote for the Samaritan doctor”, I ask him. “Well, that we’ll have to wait and watch,” Yusuf tells me with a grin.

Meanwhile I spot my friends from Dugheri distributing pamphlets to the shopkeepers, telling them about the party and its candidate. “I tell them who Kanubhai is and what he has done for the people of Mahuva,” Khimji tells me when I ask him what he tells people. I also spot Kadviben who has been carrying that earthen pot for over two hours now. “Aren’t you tired?” I ask her. “No,” she says, instantaneously, adding with a smile, “Anything for Saheb.”

“A politician can never say that”
It’s about 7 pm, and the rally after encircling the town, gathers at Malan Chowk the central location. From 7 pm to 10 pm the leaders including Kanubhai would address the gathering, here.

Malan Chowk is a roundabout in Gariadhar which is commonly used for holding rallies and processions. Blocking this round-about does not affect the traffic of the town though. At one end of the roundabout, a raised platform has been erected with a huge Sadbhavna Manch poster in the background. Two loudspeakers stand on each side of the platform and two medium sized banners with Sabhavna Manch symbol have been stuck with the help of wires atop them.  As the crowd enters the chowk, it is directed on the carpet spread in front of the platform. Here, we see Sadbhavna Manch leaders including Kanubhai and candidates from the other four constituencies seated. Also present are Anand Yagnik, Gujarat high court lawyer and former congress leader Sanat Mehta. “You ought to hear Yagnik Sahab, maza aa jayega,” Dhanji who is seated along with others from Dugheri village tells me.

The proceeding starts with the announcer informing the crowed that first the Sadbhavna Manch candidates from the four constituencies would speak followed by Yagnik, Kanubhai, and finally Sanat Mehta.

While Sadbhavna Manch candidates talk about Kalsaria and his record as a philanthropic doctor MLA, it’s Yagnik’'s speech, as Dhanji pointed out which elicits maximum cheers. Yagnik, represented the people of Mahuva against Nirma in the Gujarat high court. He fought the case for free, I am told. As Yagnik begins his speech, i realise, he is indeed a captivating orator.

From a distance he appears to look a lot like Southern superstar Mohan Lal delivering dialogues on stage. Narrating the Nirma case from the time it came to him to the final victory in supreme court, though the story has been told many times I am sure, he draws exhilarating response, pausing after every sentence for the applause to die down. Talking about Kanubhai’s role in driving out Nirma from Mahuva by leading a Gandhi like ‘andolan’ he anoints him with the title of ‘Mahatma of Mahuva’ amidst a cheering response from the crowds.

After Yagnik, Kanubhai takes on the mike. Since, he is addressing the people of Gariadhar for the first time; he begins by telling them why he left BJP to launch his own party Sadbhavna Manch. “Having won the Nirma Battle, the BJP told me to stay in the party and fight elections on its ticket. But how could I be with a party that did not help when it was needed most?” he says, adding, “Forming a party and fighting elections on our own was the only option before me.” Asking people to do what is right, he says he ‘won’t ask people to vote for him and instead tells them to do as their ‘antaratma’ tells them to.

“A politician can never say that,” I hear someone from the audience shout out loud to a cheering round of applause.



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