Known to all, but every vote counts

Kalu Maliwad
A tata Safari drives into the nondescript village of Limbodra, some 15 km from Lunawada town, followed by a Maruti Zen. Around 15 villagers, a mix of young and old, stand up to greet the man who steps out of the vehicle. Kalu Maliwad, who is contesting the election from Lunawada as the BJP candidate, is a familiar face to them. He was the MLA in 2002, lost the next time, and is contesting for a third successive

time now.

Maliwad knows the difference between victory and defeat in this constituency can be wafer-thin, and has

suffered from one such margin. "I was defeated by 84 votes in 2007,"he says. "I don't blame the Congress for my defeat, but my own party workers, who worked against me under the guidance of former Godhra MP Bhupendra singh Solanki." A party worker accompanying Maliwad said no party in Lunawada had won twice in a row,which brightens Mailwad's chances. Ratnabhai Thakor, a villager in Bhamra, says he cannot say who will actually win, as the contest this time is triangular, with Keshubai Patel's GPP also fielding a candidate. Maliwad approaches the villagers who have lined up and shakes hands with all, one by one, then settles down on one of a few plastic chairs laid out for him and with his party workers. "I have come here to appeal to you to come out and vote on December 17, and press the button on the lot us,"he begins routinely, then adds, "Ask for voter slips from the booth officer and don't return without your slips like you did last time."

Maliwad started campaigning on Wednesday, choosing to begin with visits to villages that are dominated by the Darbar caste,who belong to OBCs and whom he counts as his loyal voters. He says the OBCs in the region can define the final equation as they constitute nearly half the 2.35 lakh-odd voters in the constituency.

Some six kilometres from where he began is Limbadiya Chowkri, the site where nearly 75 Muslims fleeing their village on two mini trucks were burnt alive and killed on March 2,2002. Maliwad was later charged with having led the rioters. Last year, after witnesses turned hostile, a local court in Godhra acquitted Maliwad. Maliwad,who calls the allegations false, stresses the relations he enjoys with Muslims. "I will approach them while campaigning," he says. His campaign takes him to 10 to 15 villages a day. Villagers wait for him at Bhamra village,adjoining Limbodra,as his small cavalcade pulls in. "Narendra Modi has said Balasi nor will be the headquarters of the new Mahisagar district, but if you vote me to power, I will ask Modi ji to make Lunawada the headquarters of the new district," he promises them.

"Since all the candidates are known to the villagers, the votewill be divided among the three. One cannot say who will win,"Thakor says. "As far as sitting Congress MLA Hirabhai Patel is concerned, he did some work for our village, like building a concrete border along the sub-canal coming from the Kadana canal," he adds, pointing at the canal.

Questions and Answers

You were an accused in riots cases. Are you campaigning among Muslims?

I enjoy good relations with Muslims in my constituency. I have been talking to them since the start of campaigning. I may have been accused in riot cases, but those were false accusations by my rivals and I was acquitted.

How do you expect to perform?

Looking at the response, I can say I will win by 25,000 votes.

How would you explain your 2007 defeat?

In 2007, I lost narrowly, by 84 votes. I should have won with a very good margin had I got the support of BJP workers, some of whom, I came to understand later, had campaigned against me under the guidance of former Godhra MP Bhupendra singh Solanki.

How would you rate yourself against your rival?

The Congress MLA, Hirabhai Patel, has not taken up any development work at any place. I can see people are not happy with him. The BJP has given me the opportunity to contest this seat for the last three terms, and the people of the constituency know me well.

What are your promises to the people?

When I was MLA in 2002-2007, I promised a 220KV substation, but 20 per cent of of the work remains because the present MLA never took any interest in the project. I will first finish that project, then build roads connecting all areas with in the constituency. I have also promised to set up a Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation wing here and take up development work that is on top of Narendra Modi's agenda.

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