This is the town of ‘Satyagraha’ fame which earned the ‘Sardar’ sobriquet for Vallabhbhai Patel, but it is now agog with talks of rampant corruption, rowdyism, collapse of law & order and the difficulties citizens faced due to last year’s demonetisation.
The ruling BJP claims that its government has sanctioned Rs 18 crores for transforming the town’s Swaraj Ashram, where Sardar Patel had stayed during the historic ‘Satyagraha’ days, into a memorial to the ‘Iron Man’ of India.
Supporters of BJP’s sitting legislator Ishwar Parmar say he has done lot for this constituency by way of construction of bridges, bus stops and the like. But the people here question his rise from a sugar mill staff for Rs 5000/- per month to a businessman worth Rs 300 crore in just five years during his tenure as a BJP legislator.
He is now a construction material supplier in the town with high degree of NRI connect that fuels its rapid urbanisation.
The shops and malls in the town are already decked up in view of the NRI visits during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Pitted against BJP’s Ishwar Parmar in this seat reserved for Scheduled Caste is Congress nominee Tarunsinh Vaghela, a school van operator turned into full time political worker.
The BJP nominee’s critics talk of the difficulties, real as well as perceived, people faced due to the demonetization announced last year.
One Patel lady complained how she had to scale down the expenses on her daughter’s wedding just two days after the announcement.
Another lady was on a holiday abroad and had Rs 40 lakhs back home in the locker. She had a ‘harrowing’ time in calling up friends and relatives to dispose of the Rs 500/- and Rs 1000/- currency notes.
It is considered uncivilised in this part of the country to question if the Rs 40 lakh cash was legally earned.
Former president of the Bardoli Municipality, Ms Meenaben Tailor, an advocate, said that the town’s BJP leader had told his party people on 19 October last year to dispose off the high value notes. Following this advice, all the BJP people had distributed their high value cash among their servants, drivers and office employees for depositing in their Jan Dhan and other accounts. Another woman, Rajeswari Patel was expelled from the town’s BJP simply for attending the August 2015 Ahmedabad rally of Hardik Patel wherein job quota was demanded for the community whose many youths often spend Rs 35 lakhs to procure illegal immigration papers to the USA.
“I pleaded with them that I remain politically committed to the BJP but joined the rally in my capacity as a Patel”, she told The Statesman at the Congress election office in the town.
The Assembly segment of 2.25 lakh electorate is reserved for Scheduled Castes, but no one talks of the Dalits’ plight here. Instead, people here boast of Asia’s largest sugar mill which crushes upwards of 10,000 tonnes sugarcane per day for eight months in a year and how many bighas of sugar cane fields they own.
The BJP and Congress leaders trade charges over the Minimum Support Prices (MSP) for sugar cane and the issues of Income Tax notices to the growers but avoid questions about the wage rates labourers get for cutting the sweet sticks.