A little Bihar – right in Gujarat

In Ahmed Patel’s pocket borough, some question development narrative


Ajay Singh | November 3, 2012

Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi


 Gujarat offers many surprises. One of them is a little Bihar, not far from the Narmada river in central Gujarat. It’s called Netrang, 40 km from Bharuch. Like so many other rural regions in the state, two state highways pass through it. It is also one of the nine new talukas chief minister Narendra Modi has proposed to create.

As one gets down at the Bharuch railway station, travels south and arrives in Netrang, the first thing one notices is the demographic composition, which is quite different from the rest of the state. Pockets dominated by Muslims and tribals form a visible pattern. Significantly, this area is considered to be the pocket borough of Ahmed Patel, political adviser to Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

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In fact, this unique demographic composition has spawned a politics which has an uncanny similarity with Bihar. The Janata Dal (United), the ruling party of Bihar, dominates here. It is certainly not a measure of Nitish kumar's popularity. Far from it, JD (U) is here identified with a tribal chieftain, Chhotu Vasava, a muscleman with a formidable track record – as much of winning assembly elections as of figuring in crime records. Chhotu Vasava and his son Mahesh Vasava are accused of running an extortion racket. In Netrang, developed as an industrial zone, the Vasavas' acts of indiscretions are talk of the town. But the Vasavas remain unfazed as they get patronage from the BJP leadership.

While the Vasava fiefdom extends to the Jhagadia assembly constituency and stands out as his own republic, residents of Netrang, largely Muslims, describe Gujarat’s development narrative as a fiction produced under a grand marketing strategy. Ayub Pathan, son of a petrol pump owner called Quasim Bhai, questions development claims. For instance, he points out that Netrang's primary health centre has been functioning without a doctor or even paramedics. "Since the locality is at the intersection of two highways, fatal accidents are not uncommon here. So, often, post-mortem needs to be done," he says, but the bodies of victims lay unattended for hours on end in the absence of a sweeper and a doctor. "You have to pay through your nose to get it done," he adds.

Pathan and his father are known here as acolytes of Ahmed Patel. Hence there are reasons to take their version as a statement prejudiced by their own politics. Nevertheless, it is indicative of the fact that development of Gujarat is not universally accepted in the ongoing political discourse. However, Pathan, 37, unhesitatingly admits that the Congress does not have an option in Gujarat. "They (the state leaders of the Congress) seem to be caught in intense factional feuds and are no match to Modi's skills and stature." Then he inadvertently lets the cat out of the bag by confirming existence of rumours about bonhomie between Ahmed Patel and Modi. "There is a rumour about an unwritten pact between Patel and Modi. While Patel wants to rule Delhi, he is not interested in upsetting Modi in Gujarat." The rumour, despite its doubtful veracity, reveals possible political equations in the state.



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