The gun-brandishing MP who would be MLA

NAT

Vitthal Radadiya, 54, the MP who was caught on CCTV recently brandishing a gun at a toll plaza near Vadodara, has now set out to become an MLA from Dhoraji, a seat he once represented before his son took over. On his campaign, the Congress MP from Porbandar stresses his availability to voters round the clock.

"His number is ...," Padvala sarpanch Sumra Kasam announces to a group of villagers gathered near a mosque. "Anyone can call him even at midnight. If there is no reply, he will get back at daybreak."

Radadiya, sitting next to him, interrupts: "I hardly sleep. So there is very little chance of a missed call."

It is Thursday, the day after Radadiya took part in the Lok Sabha debate on the FDI-in-retail bill. Having arrived in the morning from Delhi, he is attending his 17th public meeting for the day. Dressed in a crisp white shirt and white trousers, sporting sports shoes, Radadiya leaves his SUV at the village entrance and walks through narrow lanes where supporters are dancing to drumbeats to welcome him. Currency notes are showered on him from a crowd that includes Muslims, Dalits and Patels.

An estimated dozen criminal cases are registered against him, including assault and threat, but Radadiya has always connected with his voters, a fact borne out by his unbeaten run in elections since 1990. Asked about the impact of the gun-flashing incident, Radadiya is unapologetic. "People want a strong leader," he says. "They now love me even more."

The farmer leader's unbroken victory run has been marked by party-hopping. He was an Independent when he won from Dhoraji in 1990. He joined the BJP in 1995, went on to support the Shankersinh Vaghela group in rebelling against the Keshubhai Patel government, and joined the new outfit Rashtriya Janata Party. In 1998, when the RJP lost heavily, Radadiya was among only four to win their seats. Following the RJP's merger into the Congress, Radadiya has since 2002 contested as a Congress candidate.

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