Monday, December 12, 2011

Modi meets his match from within the BJP

OPPOSING political currents are meeting, and their interaction is steadily raising the temperature along coastal Gujarat.

As the two principal political forces in Gujarat clashed in Bhavnagar, about 80 kilometers away from the famous ship breaking yard of Alang during Narendra Modi’s Sadbhavana fast last Saturday, the chief minister was challenged by a third force. Quietly in the same town, the discontent of the dispossessed and displaced found its voice — a leader who had emanated from the same cradle as Narendra Modi and his ilk.

Modi sat, stood and waved from an elevated dais fortified with fierce gun- toting security men and the state machinery put in every effort to mobilise a jingoistic crowd. But it was BJP MLA Kanu Kalsaria, who sat on a parallel Samvedana Parv a few kilometers away, who got the people talking.

Dr Kalsaria, who has been elected three times consecutively from Mahuva, has for all practical purposes emerged as the face of rural Gujarat’s discontent against Modi regime. And the otherwise authoritarian Gujarat BJP appears helpless before this lean 57 year old surgeon. Despite Kalsaria’s tirade against Narendra Modi, the BJP can only hope that he would one day resign from the party on his own. Contrast this with the treatment the party had meted out to the heavyweights like Keshubhai Patel, Kashiram Rana, Suresh Mehta and several others and the predicament that Gujarat BJP finds itself in with respect to Kalsaria becomes only more evident.

MODI sat in a royal tent, with all the amenities to take the heat off him as devotees queued up for a darshan. The main Opposition party — the Congress — did stage a routine counter fast at a pandal erected a few kilometers away, by the Bor Talav, a dying lake that was once the centre of the town. If Modi’s fast was a show of the state’s arrogance and opulence, Congress betrayed the monotony of routine opposition. On the other side of the lake, in the scorching afternoon sun, Kalsaria and his motley crowd sat unguarded.

The surgeon did not really speak, it was for the people to say what they wanted to and their anger was for all to hear — be it Ibrahim Illiyas, the fisherman from Mundra in Kutch, or the ten- yearold farmer boy who only managed to say “ nobody listens to us, no one,” before vanishing into the crowd. It was, however, their earnestness and steely resolve that signified the fuming amber of discontent in rural Gujarat, which is waiting for someone to stoke it properly. Gujarat’s ‘ Development’ story has certainly not reached these people so far.

Kalsaria took on Modi about two- and- a- half years back, when he resisted the corporate giant Nirma which was setting up a multi- crore cement plant in his constituency Mahuva. The proposed plant threatened to destroy the fertile agricultural land that had been developed by the local people over the years.

Despite having the state government’s support, the company had to retrace its footsteps.

Kalsaria, who had spearheaded a people’s movement, emerged as the man who delivered.

While the BJP initially ignored him, his support grew and soon enough the unassuming doctor became a rallying point for Gandhians, activists and farmers, who were getting the rough end of Modi’s development stick. Today, Kalsaria is the face of the farmer’s struggle for their land across Gujarat.

His strategy has been simple.

While movement against land acquisition is on at various pockets in Gujarat, Kalsaria never has tried to usurp the leadership anywhere, but has not shied away from lending his support to their cause either.

“ I don’t know what these movements will lead to, but at this point it is important that I do what is right and that’s what I am doing,” he says. The steel of his resolve shines through his bright smile. One is more than tempted to believe in him and his constituency does. “ I am not against anyone, I am only standing up for the farmers who are suffering,” he says. “ But they ( the BJP) think I am against them,” he adds with a smile. The dichotomy is for the BJP to resolve.


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