Fishing community longs for a leader of its own
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Haresh Bariya, owner of a fishing boat, has now waited over three months for the benefits of a diesel subsidy, promised by Chief Minister Narendra Modi in August.
"A package of Rs 200 crore was announced for all 11,000 boats in Gujarat. Fishermen were to get a VAT waiver on diesel, which had been stopped since 2007-08," says Bariya, of Okha in Jamnagar district. "A few days ago, when I asked when the benefit would come, there was no reply from the authorities."
The community's other problems include dismal condition of ports, lack of infrastructure, capture of boats by Pakistani authorities, frequent arrest of fishermen by Pakistan from the International Maritime Border Line and rapid industrialisation on the coastline.
Large sections of the community, which accounts for 40 lakh voters in 3,000 villages along the 1600-km coastline, will vote in 14 seats during the first phase on December 13. The reason its problems have not been addressed, say community members, is that leaders elected from key seats do not really represent them.
Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhwadia, who represents Porbandar, belongs to the Mer community. The fishing community does not identify with Porbandar MP Vitthal Radadiya either. The BJP has nominated former minister Babu Bokhiria, who is from the Kharwa fishing community, against Modhwadia.
Fisheries Minister Purshottam Solanki, BJP MLA from the erstwhile seat of Ghogha, is seen to be more of a Koli leader than one of the fishing community. "That is the reason why problems of the community are not being addressed," says Velji Masani, executive member of the National Fishing Forum. "Not all Kolis are fishermen, and not all fishermen are Kolis."
Solanki is contesting in Bhavnagar Rural against the Congress's Shaktisinh Gohil, who is not from the fishing community either.
The problems of the community, backbone of an industry that accounts for an estimated Rs 2,000 crore forex reserve per year, persist though both the BJP and the Congress recognise these. Modi has announced packages, while the Congress has held a yatra to save the coastline and promised to check rampant industrialisation.