If one travels across Sabarkantha, the influence of Congress heavyweight Shankarsinh Vaghela can be felt at almost every nook and cranny of this Lok Sabha constituency. For many, BJP candidate Deepsinh Rathod is a non-entity. Some, however, refused to write him off. “The battle is not easy for Vaghela,” said the head of a local NGO. Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, there is stark difference between the two and Vaghela is the way ahead.
On Sunday morning, Rathod was seated at his party’s local office, waiting for former minister of state for home Praful Patel. Both leaders had planned to go around villages of the Idar assembly segment. As soon as Rathod and Patel arrived at Rudardi village, he was greeted with garlands. There were a couple of dozen people waiting for the former two-time MLA and Thakor community leader. After exchange of pleasantries, they listened to him.
Rathod, a farmer and a tiny little man, appealed to them in the name of Narendra Modi, the future prime minister from Gujarat and a native of North Gujarat like him. His speech had praises for Modi, the Gujarat model of development and a few words about the ills of Congress rule. Then, the BJP candidate moved to another village. In the entire conversation that barely a dozen onlookers were listening to, no one seemed to be moved.
On the other hand, in the scorching heat of Aantarsuba village under Vijaynagar taluk, 25 km from Rajasthan, people from the tribal belt of Khedbrahma assembly segment area were waiting for Bapu — Shankarasinh Vaghela. They waited for him without moving an inch for at least two hours. He finally arrived to address the gathering with Anil Joshiyara and Ashwin Kotwal, the two local MLAs, in tow. Congress has control over five of the six assembly seats or segments here.
Joshiyara and Kotwal talked about Modi rule and the misery it has brought to the tribals, comparing it with the Congress rule of the past. And Vaghela, considered to be a Modi bête noire, talked about why tribals should think about their future generation, their future, skill development and educational training to get jobs in the competitive segment. His words were lapped up by the people.
Going by records, Congress is certain to win this seat despite Madhusudan Mistry — tribal leader and now Modi’s challenger at Vadodara — having lost it in 2009. The grand old party had control of most of the seats in the assembly election with a lead of nearly 1.5 lakh votes. It also hopes to get the full support of the Thakor and the tribal vote-banks.
Some, however, have a different point of view. “I expect Modi’s persona and Thakor background to help Deepsinh win,” said Mohan Barot, a 65-year-old restaurateur of Damradi village on the Idar highway. But, he is one of the very few who are willing to give Rathod a chance. “I am going to win this seat with ease. There should not be any doubt about that. The tribals are with me and that is enough,” said Vaghela, exuding confidence.
On the other hand, Rathod, too, is confident of having the backing of his community. “Thakore votes are more and Vaghela has a history of changing seats. He is an outsider and I am a local. What about broader issues of Congress misrule, price rise and corruption.”