Gujarat Assembly elections | In Porbandar, BJP and Congress assess AAP’s damage potential 

The 2017 Assembly election saw the BJP narrowly defeating the Congress in this constituency

Updated - November 29, 2022 08:06 am IST

Published - November 28, 2022 10:08 pm IST - Porbandar

A fisherman offloads fresh stock of ribbon fish at Porbandar Port, Gujarat ahead of Gujarat Assembly 2022 Election on Sunday November 27, 2022.

A fisherman offloads fresh stock of ribbon fish at Porbandar Port, Gujarat ahead of Gujarat Assembly 2022 Election on Sunday November 27, 2022. | Photo Credit: VIJAY SONEJI

The Porbandar port on India’s western coastline looks calm as 36-year-old Bhavin Kotiya supervises the catch of ribbonfish from his boat that has returned to the shore after two weeks of being out in the sea.

“Our biggest problem is the price of diesel that we use in our boats,” says Mr. Kotiya, who is from the Kharwa community that makes up 10% of the 2.65 lakh voters in this Assembly constituency.

The Kharwas, or the fisherfolk, are an influential vote bank in as many as 32 constituencies across the State and all the major parties are trying to reach out to them.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Porbandar candidate, Babubhai Bokhiria, who has won consecutive elections since 2012, points out that the State government gives a subsidy of ₹17 per litre of diesel, former Leader of the Opposition and the Congress candidate, Arjunbhai Modhwadia, mentions his party’s promise to provide 36,000 litres of sales tax-free diesel annually to every boat owner.

The Aam Admi Party (AAP) has gone one step ahead by fielding Jeevanbhai Jungi, a member of the Kharwa community, who once headed the association of boat owners in Porbandar.

“Yes, the government gives subsidy, but the payments are quite late, with payments pending up to six months. That’s why we think, one among us will be able to understand our problems better. AAP’s Jeevanbhai knows the issues of boat owners,” says Mr. Kotiya.

On his part, Mr. Jungi says he is focusing on affordable healthcare, education and employment. “Our people need them even more,” the AAP candidate says.

In the 2017 Assembly election, Mr. Bokhiria defeated Mr. Modhwadia by only 1,855 votes. So, in an election where the ruling party is being cornered over a range of issues such as high fuel prices, including cooking gas, recent increase in power tariff, inflation and high cost of living and loss of incomes post-COVID, a third player is being assessed for its potential to damage the prospects of either of the two traditional rivals.

“The biggest issues today are inflation, unemployment, corruption and law and order. So, when people will go out to vote, they will choose a party that can form the government,” Mr. Modhwadia tells The Hindu.

He adds, ”AAP is the B-team of BJP. They have invested heavily in advertisement and that’s why they are visible. On the ground, they don’t even have people to campaign.”

“As far as the fishing community is concerned, we are not only offering them sales tax-free diesel but also announced ₹50 lakh compensation to those owners whose boats have been seized by Pakistan for straying into their waters,” the Congress leader says.

Faced with anti-incumbency and a new entrant to challenge his hold over Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace of Porbandar, Mr. Bokhiria dismisses his rivals.

“They [AAP] don’t have any vote of their own. They are trying to ‘buy’ them by offering freebies. And as far as the Congress candidate is concerned, people have seen his tenure as an MLA,” he says.

On the AAP candidate being a member of the Kharwa community, he says, ”Is there any other State in India that gives ₹17 subsidy on diesel and above 20,000 to 25,000 litres of subsidised diesel? They [Kharwas] are with us.”

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