Gujarat Assembly elections | Kutiyana’s muscleman MLA fights to retain his stronghold

Samajwadi Party candidate from Kutiana, Kandhal Jadeja, during his campaign in Teri Village ahead of the Gujarat Assembly election.
| Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji

‘Kaam boleche’ (work speaks) blares the loudspeaker atop an SUV as it leads the motorcade of strongman and two-time lawmaker, Kandhal Jadeja, into Teri village of Porbandar district.

His Assembly constituency, Kutiyana, is barely 40 km from Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace of Porbandar but the constituency is more well known for its controversial legislator.

Son of late Santokben Jadeja, whose underworld activities inspired the Hindi movie  Godmother, Kandhal bhai, as he is popularly known, managed to win twice (2012 and 2017) as a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate.

But he is contesting the current election on the bicycle symbol of the Samajwadi Party. He was denied a ticket by NCP after he voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Rajya Sabha election in which Congress leader late Ahmed Patel was a candidate.

“In the Rajya Sabha elections, I voted for the BJP so that my work in the constituency doesn’t suffer. For any public work, you need the help of the State government or the Centre,” says Kandhal bhai, who had several criminal cases lodged against him.

Being from the dominant Mer community — who are said to have been part of feudal militia in the erstwhile princely state of Porbandar apart from being agriculturists — Kandhal bhai has a natural advantage as his community forms the bulk of the voters.

But over the years, he has also acquired a reputation of being an accessible leader who can break through the red tape of officialdom and get any work done.

“That may be true but he has the image of a Don and that makes all the difference,” says a BJP member from Porbandar who didn’t wish to be named.

The ring of personal bodyguards and armed security officers (PSOs) around Kandhal bhai is a subtle reminder of his controversial background.

Countering allegations of pursuing musclemen politics, Kandhal bhai says, ”I have come here to seek my votes. These are my votes on the basis of my work. My mother and uncle also represented them”.

His speech outside a temple in the Teri village isn’t very impressive and reads like a laundry list of work done using his MLA funds.

Not many volunteer when he asks people to list out their issues. An old man, however, questions why an additional check dam that the village was promised has not been built.

Kandhal bhai’s reply: “Dam has been sanctioned and work will start soon”.

“He keeps winning because of the Mer community,” says the old man who had questioned him at the election meeting but refused to share his name.

It’s a political calculation other parties have done. Except Aam Admi Party, both the Congress and the BJP have also fielded candidates from the Mer community.

BJP’s Dheliben Odedera, who headed the Kutiyana Municipal Board for over two decades, is seen as the main challenger.

“I am not scared of contesting against him. Voters of Kutiyana know me and my work,” the BJP candidate says, adding, ”They will vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development work. We are winning this election”.

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