AAP CM candidate first had to fight family at home, now faces caste hurdle

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AAP chief ministerial candidate Isudan Gadhvi’s decision last June to resign as the editor of VTV Gujarati hours before his hugely popular primetime news show “Mahamanthan” was to go on air surprised the channel. His was their trademark show, with soaring TRPs. His family, which was also not in the know, was equally shocked.

Gadhvi had tried convincing them, arguing that a journalist’s impact on the people was limited. But his wife Hiravaben would have none of it. “He used to take on powerful politicians on his show regularly. But as a family, we felt that politics would only invite more trouble in his life. We were not engaged with any form of politics,” says Hirvaben, who got married to Gadhvi 16 years ago.

Gadhvi had faced resistance from the family when he decided to pursue a journalist’s career too, with his mother, Maniben, repeatedly advising him to tone down his aggression against the powerful. “After every episode of Mahamanthan, I used to scold him out of concern. He would listen to his father, who passed away in 2014. He takes my advice before any decision, but this time he had made up his mind,” says Maniben, leaning against a chair in the sprawling courtyard of the family’s home at the Pipariya village in Khambhaliya.

When they heard about his political plans, Gadhvi says, they tried equally hard to dissuade him. “They said we do not even have a sarpanch in the family. It took me two days to convince them.”

The family has since come around, even joining his door-to-door campaign across Khambaliya, where the Congress has repeated incumbent MLA Vikram Madam and the BJP has fielded former MLA Mulu Bera. Addressing a rally Tuesday in the area, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the people of Khambhaliya will “elect their son” with a thumping majority.

On the ground, however, Gadhvi has an uphill battle. A constituency where caste identities have traditionally trumped other factors during voting, the Gadhvi community to which he belongs has only about 14,000 votes.

Elders of the Ahir community, the dominant group in the constituency at 54,000 among its approximately 3.2 lakh voters, have traditionally supported either the BJP or the Congress, and say they will not shift loyalties to AAP. “We supported the Congress in large numbers during the last polls. This time, those votes will also shift to the BJP, meaning that Ahir votes will be split between the two parties,” says Ashok Bhai Dangar of the neighbouring Viramdad village.

Gadhvi believes “caste politics and equations would go for a toss with AAP, whose USP is work”.

However, AAP may lack the organisational heft to counter the patronage networks established by the BJP and Congress over the years, even as it has emerged as a talking point in rural Saurashtra.

And so, other than banking on Gadhvi’s popularity as a former celebrity anchor who raised “people’s issues”, AAP is like the others hoping to get the maths right with the support of numerically strong communities such as Satwaras, Muslims, Dalits and Kshatriyas. The party is also addressing fundamental issues such as the water crisis. A local resident, Dinesh Luna, says he supplies water drums measuring 750 litres to farmlands and families.

Its pitch on unemployment finds resonance with a section of the youth in the area. “I completed my graduation from a college in Jamnagar. Now I am running a kirana shop here. Private companies won’t pay more than Rs 12,000 per month,” says 23-year-old Shakti Jam.

Back in Pipriya, Govind Dayani reminisces about his childhood friend, whom he calls a “tiger”. “We were classmates till Class 6, until he moved to a hostel in Khambaliya. He came from a fairly affluent family but hung around with us. Our life didn’t go anywhere. Par dekho wo kahan pohuch gaya (but look at where he has reached).”