RSS is behind me, not BJP, says Keshubhai aide
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Gordhan Zadaphia, Keshubhai Patel's candidate in Gondal, gets a lot of attention as his car moves through Ravanaa village, a man instantly recognised and yet a surprise candidate.
People had written to him urging him to contest, says the GPP leader once the car reaches the party's office, set up in a shut oil mill. "The VHP and the RSS support me," he says. "They have not declared it officially but they have not issued a directive calling for support to Narendra Modi either. Many of their workers are working for me."
Indeed, a political rally he holds includes BJP candidate Jayrajsinh Jadeja's brother Jagatsinh, RSS pracharak Laljibhai Patel, and BJP tehsil panchayat president-turned-GPP leader Kishorebhai Andipura.
"Now the fight is between 3½ years of Keshubhai's rule and 11 years of Modi's," he says. "I am here to bring Gondal's dark days to an end."
The region suffers from a water shortage, which Zadaphia calls the key issue. "I want to make a mini sachivalaya (secretariat) in Gondal," he tells the crowd at one of his meetings. "Look at the water Modi sends to Gondal. It may be Narmada water, but has it been filtered?" Keshubhai puts in, "Modi is like a lion telling the lambs he will look after them."
From the crowd of 8,000 at College Chowk, the voices that emerge are mixed. "We face a water shortage. No leader has come campaigning to our homes as they all know they have not kept their promises," says Hansa Khanderiya, a homemaker.
But Rameshbhai Roarani, a taxi driver, says, "The BJP has worked for Gondal. There used to be so much comunal violence here, but that stopped after Jayarajsinh Jadeja won (in 1998 and 2002). The GPP is too new to win."
Gondal has a large presence of Patels, the GPP's key support base. But the party has found support elsewhere, too. Salimbhai Chauhan, a Muslim, was formerly vice-president of the Congress minority cell in Gondal. "I have joined the GPP and opened a community office for the party as I want to work for Keshubapa with my 15,000 supporters," he says. "There are 35,000 Muslim votes to be gained from here."