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Woo voters with 'nasta-pani' Thursday, December 13, 2001

SOURCE - TIMES NEWS NETWORK
VADODARA: While the caterers are busy with marriage contracts, the candidates for the gram panchayat polls scheduled for December 23, are waiting for the campaign to hot up. No unwarranted analogy this, but candidates are beginning to realise that the way to a voter's heart is also through his stomach.

'Nasta-pani' is top on the priority list and 'rasodas' (community kitchens) are waiting to be established in the villages of Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat districts. Money does not really matter, since there are no audits in village panchayats.

Banners, mobile loudspeakers and all are okay, but the real spending will be on the 'nasta-pani'. The election office of Bharat Patel, the sarpanch candidate for Thaltej gram panchayat in Ahmedabad, offers 'gota', 'bhajiyas' and other munchies along with tea and coffee to the voters and a plan for a community luncheon for around 5,000 people is also in the pipeline.

In Vadodara district, some villages are likely to see an ugly display of wealth in the poll campaign. 'Rasodas' to feed people, banners fluttering at every nook and corner, teams of workers working overtime for candidates and arrangements for booths on the final day of the polls - all these will soon become a common sight.

Vadodara Rural constituency legislator and district BJP president Dilubha Chudasama said, "Big villages do see a lot of expenditure in the polls. Earlier, some candidates are known to have spent amounts equivalent to those required for winning an assembly or a parliament seat."

President of the Vadodara district panchayat Ranjit Rathwa (Congress) seconded the view: "There are candidates who have put up banners with their photographs and also print posters. However, all this is done in their individual capacity, as the elections are not contested on party lines."

But this contention is made redundant by examples to the contrary. On Hitesh Barot's saffron banner the words 'Bhajap prerit' (supported by BJP) is prefixed before the candidate's name in the Bodakdev gram panchayat.

Bharat Patel, contesting for sarpanch in the Thaltej area has distributed hand-outs printed in orange. His poll symbol is the kite. Guess what was the colour of the huge kite outside his election office?

The plan now is to buy some 10,000 kites and distribute them in the village just before the elections. "Uttarayan was top on my mind when I chose my symbol", he says.

At Vadodara, representatives of both the main political parties point out that the expenditure is only because of prestige issues. "The polls become an ego issue and candidates try to win them by pumping in money. Otherwise, they can be contested for nominal amounts," said Chudasama.

At Surat, the campaign is now at the organisational level and with the marriage season on, the candidates are yet to launch their campaigns. Schedules for canvassing are being charted out. Head of the BJP unit at Kim, Girishbhai Kanubhai Patel says its too early for the candidates to go for real election campaigning which will pick up only after the marriage season.

But discussions at panchayat bhavans in the villages of Bardoli, Palsana, Kamrej, Olpad, Mandavi, Vyara, Nizar, Uchhal talukas mostly rest on why one candidate was chosen and the others left out

The campaign is yet to pick up, but water tankers are seeing crawling in and out of Thaltej village and a tar road is finally being made. "Bharatbhai has contacts right upto Keshubhai and this is how he got a resolution passed in the panchayat for this road", says his campaign manager Rasikbhai, seizing the chance. His campaign limit is Rs three lakh.

Big names are also a big USP, so the inauguration of Bharat Patel's election office was attended by state panchayat minister Ranchhod Desai and Daskroi MLA Vijay Patel (BJP).

Bharat is pitted against the 'Congress-supported' former sarpanch Dinesh Thakore. He is running a more sober campaign than his rival - with the water jug as his poll symbol - and plans to spend Rs two lakh. The handouts have gone for printing, the office is to be inaugurated on Tuesday by CLP leader Naresh Raval and there will be thermocol cut-outs of water jugs coming soon, says Thakore.

A farmer from Vasai village, Gumansinh Chavda claims to have spent Rs four lakh in the taluka panchayat polls last time. He says, "around Rs 62,000 were spent on chavana (bitings) and Rs 17,000..." were spent dodging prohibition officials, euphemistically speaking of course.

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]


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