On poll eve, looking back at how hopefuls lodged claim on votes

It’s a festive time at the British-era government buildings as candidates flock in with their retinue and take the oath of nomination. The game is formally on!


Ashish Mehta | December 12, 2012

The BJP’s Gulsinh Rathwa (garlanded, in the middle of a crowd) is the sitting MLA and seeking a second term.
The BJP’s Gulsinh Rathwa (garlanded, in the middle of a crowd) is the sitting MLA and seeking a second term.

A two-storey colonial-era building, which has seen better days — and looks forward to regaining its glory as headquarters of a promised district instead of a taluka — has a plethora of government offices. The most important of them all is that of the deputy collector and sub-divisional magistrate, as an old board announces. His added responsibility, mentioned in a new board alongside, is “election officer, 137-Chhota Udepur (ST)”.

This is where five candidates queued up on November 29 to file their nomination forms for the assembly elections.

The Nomination
Their astrologers must have met to devise different auspicious timings. At 12.15, the first to arrive was Mohansinh Rathwa of the Congress. (He represented the neighbouring Pavi-Jetpur constituency in the outgoing assembly. After the delimitation, he has shifted to Chhota Udepur.) He and his 50-odd supporters come out of about a dozen SUVs. Attired in a white khadi shirt and trousers, he is taking purposeful steps towards the “prant kacheri” as the office is known here, but party workers stop him for an important procedure. Garlands, half a dozen of them, of rose and of marigold, are offered and the candidate does not want to remove any of them. Slogan-shouting is attempted but as the core team moves into the office, everybody starts chatting: what is to be done now, and later in the day, and who needs to be spoken to when and where…

The peon sitting on a chair outside the deputy collector’s office wears a smile, as if this was a festive occasion and an awaited guest has finally arrived. He goes in, informs the boss, SP Bhagora, a Gujarat administrative cadre officer, who makes only a small gesture to let the ritual begin.

The peon stops the party (this might be the only occasion when he can do so) and solemnly announces that only four people are allowed inside. Mohansinh walks in with the chosen four, greets the officer with folded hands, formally states his name and takes a seat. The officer turns to his staff. Four-five of them are in attendance, standing behind his chair and desk and under the photographs of Gandhiji and Vivekanand on the wall (there must have been more before the code of conduct came into effect). They open thick volumes (apparently of the voters list) to cross-check the candidate’s details. The first step over, the candidate puts several bunches of papers – the nomination form, the party’s mandate, affidavits of asset declaration and criminal record if any, etc.

The Oath
Bhagora, who speaks softly, courteously and does not show who’s the boss, asks Mohansinh, “Now you will have to stand up and take oath.” The text is ready at hand and the candidate stands up to read it out in Gujarati: I, Mohansinh Rathwa take oath in the name of god that I will protect the sovereignty…

The officer then asks him to put his signature on the dotted line. “Who are here among those who have proposed your name?” The others in the party identify themselves. The officer and his staff are going through the set of papers, referring to a ready checklist on the side. The officer wants to see if the “caste certificate” is attached: this is a constituency reserved for the scheduled tribes. It is in order. Passing the papers to the aides, Bhagora tells the candidate: “Verification time is (December) First. Please bring the original caste certificate along.” He then signs on acknowledgment receipt while an aide makes an entry in a register.

With many government officers, you ask three questions and he or she may reply to one. Bhagora replies to questions not asked, guiding not only candidates but common people too. “Open a separate (bank) account. Cost officers will give you special training (in keeping accounts). IRS (Indian Revenue Service) officers will come. EC (election commission) has given an extra instruction this time: you can keep an extra assistant agent to maintain accounts. Your agent has as much powers as you.”

The process is now complete. It has taken under ten minutes. The candidate stands up and joins his hand in Namaste, and the company leaves, while the staff put the papers in place.

The Next Candidate
By 12.45, the next candidate’s group arrives at the compound. People who have come from villages for their revenue problems or to get certificates, holding photocopies in hand and passing time at tea-stalls, turn to take a look and then resume their conversations. It is Gulsinh Rathwa of BJP, the sitting MLA, seeking a second term. Some of the workers in the crowd are wearing the trademark saffron khes, or neck scarf, shouting slogans in support of Narendra Modi. One of the women among them comes forward and offers a single rose garland, which suffices for this man of small build and large moustache. He is not exactly dressed for occasion, wearing old chappals that need repair, but his khadi shirt is ironed at least.

As he comes out after completing his formalities with the officer, four-five men, some of them with small video camera, corner him, and one of them starts to fire questions.

Are you confident of victory? “We have done several good works in the last five years (correction) in 11 years of the BJP rule (actually BJP has been in rule since 1998, but no correction). Roads, water, krishi melas (agricultural fairs launched by Modi)… Officers come and go to interior adivasi villages and explain government schemes.” (At this stage, an aide seems a tribute to the great leader is much called for and starts of his speech listing achievement of Modisaheb, he is checked by the journalist, who wants quotes only from the candidate.)

Will delimitation affect your chances this time? “The new villages added are our neighbours. We know people there. We have workers there. It will only benefit me. In 2007, we (that is, first person honorific) won, but we do not have relatives in Kawant region. In these new villages, we have acquaintances. Our lead will only increase.”

The press meet is over, supporters shake hands with Gulsinh, and in two minutes, he is walking alone towards his vehicle, while others make arrangements for planning meetings.

The Planning
Meanwhile, at the local Congress campaign office – a supporter’s bungalow – planning meeting is on, since the customary snacks are over. Male folks are sitting on plastic chairs in the verandah and the compound, women workers are presumably inside: just the way it would be if this were a social occasion. Former MP from here Naran Rathwa is more heard and seen than Mohansinh. (As minister of state for railways during UPA 1, he brought a broad-gauge railway line between Chhota Udepur and Vadodara, whose popularity unfortunately equals his unpopularity, he lost in 2009.) An evening meeting at “the college” is called to chalk out plans of visiting villages. “Everybody has to come, the college, five in the evening…” and two aides repeat the instruction to the rest of about 50 people assembled. A new face arrives and Naranbhai greets him and says, “Must come at five o’clock.” Some people, like family elders who bother themselves about things youngsters don’t attend to, move around to tie loose knots by asking someone to ensure some village leader is present in the evening.

Meanwhile, after lunch, the deputy collector receives one more nomination: from Arjun Rathwa of Janata Dal (United). A dedicated activist of tribal causes, he is young, quite articulate, and people say he should have waited a bit and a bigger party would have given him the ticket. Somabhai Nayak joins the list as a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate. An independent candidate too files his papers. Shankar ‘Professor’ Rathwa, a former MLA from BJP, is now awaited. Will he contest as independent? Will he join the breakaway faction, Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP)? He decides in favour of GPP the next day and completes his formalities. The line-up for the constituency is now clear, barring any withdrawals which are not likely.



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