Gariyadhar: As a ruling party MLA, he led a agitation to oust a cement plant but will the rebel against his own party government win the electoral battle that he has jumped into?
Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria, a practising surgeon and three-time BJP MLA from Mahuva in Bhavnagar district, had spearheaded the mass movement in the region against Nirma Cement plant, a rare thing in state considered to be industry- friendly.
Under the banner of ‘Sadbhavna Manch’, Kalsaria has fielded five of his associates, who were active in the agitation against the cement plant, from different constituencies of Amreli and Bhavnagar districts.
Though Kalsaria has been successful on BJP ticket, the question is will he be able to retain his seat and make his associates win. ”The major challenge ahead of Kalsaria is to convert his support base of anti-Nirma cement plant movement into a vote-bank. Kanubhai definitely is a successful agitator but not a political administrator,” says senior political observer Pratap Shah who is based in Bhavnagar.
Kalsaria’s Sadbhavna Manch will have to fight a four-cornered battle, the other three contenders come from Congress, BJP and Keshubhai Patel’s GPP. Following denial of ticket by BJP after he fought against his own party government in the Supreme Court in the cement factory case, he is fighting as an Independent on “Sadbhavna Manch” (Harmony Platform).
His five associates are also fighting as Independents. Interestingly, this time Kalsaria has decided to contest from Gariyadhar seat in Bhavnagar and not from Mahuva where he had won three Assembly elections since 1998 on BJP ticket.
At the height of his agitation against the cement plant, Kanubhai had led a ‘padyatra’ in which thousands of people had walked from Mahuva to the state capital Gandhinagar in March, 2011.
In this yatra, not only the supporters of Kanubhai but activists and supporters of BJP’s Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), Congress, NGOs working for environment, farmers, salt workers, fishing community too had joined overwhelmingly.
“There are examples in the state like Mahagujarat and JP movements where leaders have gained in electoral battle following a mass movement. So, I am hopeful for Kalsaria,” said another veteran political observer Prakash Shah.
“I don’t think we will have to worry about four-cornered contest. On the contrary, it will be a friendly fight between GPP, Congress and our Manch and that will take major BJP vote share away from it,” said Kalsaria.
He is also confident on changing his constituency this time. “Villages which were affected by proposed and now cancelled Nirma cement plant are equally distributed in Mahuva and Gariydhar Talukas.”
To bring his point home, he is citing his successful ’testing’ of his movement’s political acceptability. During the anti-cement plant agitation, Kanubhai and his team under the ‘Sadbhavna Manch’ won 9 seats out of 27 it had contested in Mahuva Taluka Panchayat and had won 2 seats out of 8 it contested in the Bhavnagar District Panchayat.
“Kalsaria in Mahuva region is like Keshubapa (former CM and GPP leader Keshubhai Patel) as villagers in this area are either fascinated by him or have respect for him. But only time will tell if they are his voters or not,” said one BJP city office-bearer in Gariyadhar.