A nondescript village called Ribada lies between urbane Rajkot and Gondal in Saurashtra. The village, which is situated just off the swanky highway, is Gujarat’s version of ‘Wasseypur’, a hotbed of crimes most of which are committed by the Jadeja gang led by ‘Bapu’ Mahipatsinh Jadeja.
Speaking figuratively in the words of the villagers themselves, the village on Thursday “voted for the first time since Independence”.
By noon, more than 50% of the 1,149 voters of the village had exercised their franchise at the only booth. Throughout the day, there were at least 15 voters standing in a queue to vote. Even the policemen on duty said this was a first of sorts for the village.
Earlier, the reason why people did not vote was disappointment with successive state governments.
“Why should we vote? No development work is taking place in the village. Voting used to be as low as 10-12% here. The highest voter turnout was 22% a long time ago. There was no water in the village, no roads, nothing...This time, however, we have made a conscious decision to vote,” said Ashoksinh Jadeja, a resident of the village.
“This time the collector explained to us that we have to vote if our village is to be taken seriously by politicians. So we are urging people, especially the women, to vote,” says Gautamsinh Jadeja, who is a part of a group monitoring the process.
Is it any surprise then that DNA saw what seemed like a bogus voter? A young boy who emerged from the polling booth did not have the indelible ink on his index finger. When DNA asked him about it, he hastily went back and got the mark on his hand.
The story of the Jadeja gang of Ribada and their political forays are quite akin to the movie, Gangs of Wasseypur. Folklore has it that Mahipatsinh, the sarpanch of the village and a Kshatriya leader – the veritable ‘Sardar’ - with multiple criminal cases registered against him and his sons, would decree who to vote for, and the village would follow. At times, his henchmen would capture the booth, which is another reason why the “village did not vote”.
The crowd, however, denied this and insisted that Bapu had not asked them to vote for anyone this time. They further shot down claims that Bapu had endorsed GPP candidate Gordhan Zadaphia. “In fact if at all, the village is leaning towards BJP’s Jayrajsinh Jadeja, who is also a Kshatriya. The incumbent MLA from Gondal, NCP’s Chandu Vaghasia, has not done any work whatsoever. He or Zadaphia haven’t even come here to campaign. Zadaphia is not a local. How can we expect him to stand by us to sort out our issues?” said Parakramsinh Jadeja, a young voter.
The water problem, however, has been solved now. The village gets water twice a day and many men are employed in an industry nearby.