Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace wears an old city look and lacks modern infrastructure. With limestone, port and tender mafia ruling the roost in the district for years, the ironically became synonymous with gangs and guns. Noted gangsters late Santokhben Jadeja, whose life had inspired the award winning Bollywood film Godmother, and her brother-in law, dreaded gangster late Bhura Munja, whose life was believed to have inspired yet another Bollywood blockbuster – the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Agnipath – had in the past represented the Kutiyana assembly seat of the Porbandar district. Satokhben’s son Kandhal Sharman Jadeja had won the Kutiyana seat in 2012 as a Nationalist Congress Party candidate. He also had the support of the Congress party then. This time again, he is seeking reelection as an NCP candidate and faces opposition from BJP’s Lakshman Odedara, who is the son of gangster Bheema Dula who faces 44 murder/attempt to murder cases, and the Congress’s Vejabhai Modedra.
As for the Porbandar assembly seat is concerned, in the last 22 years, it has been dominated by just two men and this time again the contest is largely between these two — the Bharatiya Janata Party’s sitting legislator and state Water Resources (except Kalpsar project), Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Cow protection minister Babubhai Bokharia and former Gujarat Congress president and former leader of the Opposition Arjun Modhwadiya.
Modhwadiya represented this seat between 2002 and 2012 while Bokharia held this seat from 1995 till 2002 and then again from 2012. Like the neighbouring Kutiyana constituency of the district, Porbandar seat too has its share of controversies involving guns, goons and politicians.
As it is, Modhawadiya, who claims that the BJP did nothing for Gujarat in the last 22 years, is banking heavily on the controversies around Bokhiria. In 2013, Bokharia along with former Congress MP Bharat Odedara, alleged gangster Bhima Dula Odedara, who was already behind the bars in a murder case, and his son Lakshman Dula Odedara, chairman of Porbandar marketing yard, were sentenced to three years imprisonment and fined Rs 5,000 each, in the Rs 54-crore illegal limestone mining case of 2006. Bokharia was arrested by the city police in 2007 too but was released on bail. Incidentally Bokhariya’s name had also figured in the murder of a Congress leader Mulu Modhwadia, who was shot dead at point blank range outside his house in Porbandar on November 16, 2005. However in 2013, the Supreme Court discharged him from facing the murder charge in the eight year-old case.
Amid guns and gangsters, Porbandar continues to attract national leaders for its unique position as the birthplace of the Mahatma – the apostle of peace. This election time too, Gandhi’s birthplace has attracted leaders, from BJP president Amit Shah to Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to BJP star campaigner and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mahant Avaidyanath, who had publicly got emotional while remembering Mahatma Gandhi here.
In 2012, BJP’s Bokharia had wrested the Porbandar seat from Congress’s Modhwadiya by a narrow margin of 17,146 votes. It had thereafter further consolidated its position when Vitthalbhai Radadiya, a veteran Patidar leader and Member of Parliament from Porbandar, came back to the party fold in 2013 and thereafter won the Porbandar Lok Sabha seat for the BJP in the 2014 general elections.
However, things have much changed after a brief visit from Rahul Gandhi to Porbandar on November 24 when Bharat Modi, a local BJP leader of the Kharva or the fishermen community shared stage with him that led to his suspension from the BJP. Protests from the Kharvas forced the BJP leadership to revoke the suspension order but the incident did leave a scar. Bharat claims as the president of Porbandar Machhimaar Boat Owners Association, it was his duty to raise the issues of fishermen “on any platform I can get”. He said that Rahul came just to visit Kirti Mandir, where Mahatma Gandhi was born, and he was also present there, he had got up on the stage and listed the grievances of the fishermen of Porbandar which led to his suspension. “But once I explained all the facts to the party, they understood and revoked my suspension,” he said but the matter was apparently far more complex as hundreds of fishermen from the Kharva community threatened to switch their loyalty to the Congress.
The incident has made the contest exciting here given that Kharvas constitute about 18 per cent votes in Porbandar. In 2012, and again in 2014, they had stood firmly with the BJP. Their support will be crucial for the BJP this time again.
*The writer is a senior journalist