Gujarat’s Dahod Lok Sabha constituency: In campaign din, a disconnect from local issues

The Dahod Lok Sabha constituency, a reserved seat for the Scheduled Tribes, has always been a Congress stronghold. The party has won the seat nine times out of 14 Lok Sabha elections since 1962. The BJP won the seat only three times — in 1999, 2004 and 2014.

At Ninka village of Dahod Lok Sabha constituency, BJP candidate and sitting MP Jaswantsinh Bhabhor addresses a motley group of villagers reminding them about the tainted past of his Congress rival, Babubhai Katara, who as a BJP MP was arrested in Delhi in connection with a human trafficking case.

“You already know who the Congress has fielded now. Would you want a leader like that? On April 23 when you go and vote remember this,” adds Bhabhor after Dahod unit BJP president elaborates to the villagers — some of them wearing “Namo Again” t-shirts and caps — how Katara was arrested by Delhi police while he allegedly trying to send a woman and son to Canada on fake passports.

On the same day, at a crossroad connecting three villages in Kadana tehsil of Santrampura taluka, Katara addresses a handful of people adorning Congress caps and sashes, seated under a tent. In his brief speech, Katara, who joined the Congress recently after quitting the BJP, emphasises on being the BJP insider-turned-outsider and identifies himself as ‘Vibhishan’ of Ramayana who ‘Lord Ram’ needs to take on demon king Raavan. “I have been elected as the MP from the BJP twice, I know what they are up to. Even in Ramayana, despite so many efforts by Lord Ram, he had to seek help from Vibhishan to defeat Raavan; to know where to hit. Here, I have come to defeat the Raavan as your Vibhishan,” he says as he urges the public to vote for him.

The Dahod Lok Sabha constituency, a reserved seat for the Scheduled Tribes, has always been a Congress stronghold. The party has won the seat nine times out of 14 Lok Sabha elections since 1962. The BJP won the seat only three times — in 1999, 2004 and 2014. Notably, both in 1999 and 2004, the seat was won by Babubhai Katara who was then with the BJP. In the last general elections, amid the Modi wave, BJP’s Jaswantsinh Bhabhor won from the seat and was made a Union Minister.

In the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress won four of the seven Assembly seats that fall under Dahod Lok Sabha seat, while the BJP remaining three.
According to census of 2011, the economy of the district is basically dependent on agricultural activities as nearly 83 per cent people are engaged in agricultural work. But lack of irrigation facilities has pushed farmers to migrate and work as contractual labourers in other cities for at least eight months in a year.

Less than a kilometre away from where Bhabhor was addressing residents of Ninka village, the Macchar family is unaware of any such meeting being held. A staunch BJP supporter, the family has been voting for the party for the last 15 years, they say. Kamla Macchar (67), lives in her house with her 7-year-old grandson and a 12-year-old grand-daughter. Her husband, three sons and two daughter in-laws are currently in Ahmedabad and Vadodara, working as contractual labourers. The family owns one acre of land, but they have not been able to till the land due to lack of water available for irrigation. Her family returns only when the monsoon sets in.

Kamla and her grand daughter are tasked with fetching water from a well less than a kilometre away for drinking purpose as well as for other household chores. “We depend on the community well for water for drinking and all the household chores like cooking, washing and bathing. The stress on the available water for drinking increases as we approach the month of May. We do not have any water for irrigation and that is why most members of the family migrate to other cities for livelihood because farming becomes impossible. But someone has to stay back to look after the house and for the children’s education,” Kamla says.

But in the campaign din of allegations and counter allegations, no one talks of water scarcity plaguing the constituency and the migration of villagers to cities for work.
At Mundha village in Jhalod, sarpanch Champa Bhabhor claims that lack of irrigation facilities in the village forces over 90 per cent families to migrate for around eight months. “Summer has already arrived, and by the time it is May, there are hardly any people left in the village. People are back to the village mostly in monsoon and leave again. The number also tends to vary depending on the rainfall we receive. Though a lot of developments have taken place in the village like schools, health centres and better roads, we still await better irrigation facilities that will help people to stay back and continue farming,” the sarpanch says.

As of April this year, 22,786 people from Dahod district, who are eligible to vote, are working as contractual labourers elsewhere, and they have been approached by the state Labour Department to return to their villages and cast their votes in the Lok Sabha elections.

In a nearby village in Jhalod, Reena Patel, 20, and her 15-year-old sister carry a strainer along with two and three litres containers to fetch water from a 40-ft deep well. She filters the water before carrying it home. “Two times a day we come here to fetch water. This is around a kilometre away from my home. As summer will peak, we will soon have water tankers for drinking water, but till then we drink from the well water,” Reena says.

Officials at the water supply department, however, claim to provide most of the villages under the Regional Water Supply schemes, but they say the process gets botched up at the distribution stage at the panchayat level due to internal and political differences and conflicts. In 2018-19, 105 villages across the district were provided drinking water through tankers with 24 villages each in Jhalod and Dhanpur talukas, and 22 in Limkheda.

In 2016, the state government had approved a Rs 1054-crore irrigation project based on Kadana reservoir pipeline to provide irrigation facilities to Dahod and Mahisagar. Under the project, 10,000 hectares of land in 89 villages, across seven talukas of Dahod district, and 500 hectares in Mahisagar district, would benefit from it. The project is still not completed.

In February this year, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel in his budget speech had announced to lay a new water pipeline project, costing Rs 185 crore, which will help in irrigating 4,500 acres in Dahod district that were not covered under the Kadana-Dahod pipeline. But Bhabhor, in his speech focuses mostly on “bigger” issues. “To free the country from Naxalism, terrorism, poverty and corruption, vote BJP to power, vote Modi to power,” he tells the villagers at Ninka.

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