It is being called a battle royale between Congress’ Shaktisinh Gohil and industrialist Gautam Adani by political observers. Actually, Adani is not contesting the election in Mandvi seat but he has a larger than life presence in the seaside constituency which is home to Mundra port and the linked Special Economic Zone (SEZ). And Gohil is a Congress heavyweight known for his fight against alleged undue favours given to Adani by Narendra Modi. The BJP candidate is Virendrasinh Jadeja, a light weight politician but presumably backed to the hilt by the BJP high command.
Mundra is one of India’s largest ports now owned and further developed by Adani. Allegedly facilitated by the Modi-led BJP government in the state, Adani moved to the area in 2002 to exploit local resources.
He was allotted farmers’ land from around 10 villages for a ‘token sum’, taking away the source of livelihood of more than 3,000 fisherfolk, farmers and salt makers. Then, Adani’s Mundra Special Economic Zone (SEZ) was incorporated in 2003 and it became India’s first multi-product and port-based SEZ. All this has transformed Mundra, and Mandvi.
A loss for BJP’s Jadeja in Mandvi would be seen as a major loss of face for not just the local BJP but also for Adani, and even Modi, observers feel.
Mandvi’s has about 20% Muslim population, with Kshatriyas also present in significant number. The seat used to be the stronghold of former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta who first won from here in 1975. He left the saffron party in 2007 following the rise of Narendra Modi in the party, alleging that “the entire party had surrendered to one person”. Both Mehta and Gohil are known for consistently attacking Gautam Adani and his links with Modi.
Gohil, while he was the Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly from 2008 to 2012, had alleged that Modi always extended undue favours to Adani, particularly in the Mundra area. He also alleged that 3,15,49,000 square metre of land around Shekhadia village in Mundra taluka of Kachchh was sold to Adani at the rate of Rs 8 per square metre and the company later resold it at several hundred rupees per square metre.
Both Gohil and Mehta have also accused the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC) of giving benefits to Adani. For instance, Gohil says that the GSPC established its Liquid Natural Gas Terminal at Mundra to benefit Adani even though it was much more viable to set it up at Pipavav in Saurashtra where it was building a gas-based plant.
Not only Adani, but Tata Group was also allotted land here to set up a manufacturing unit for the Nano car. According to Mehta, another Mumbai-based company Indigold Refineries was allotted land violating all norms on the “direct intervention of the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his Revenue Minister Anandiben Patel”. Mehta and Gohil focus of activity has always been opposition to giving away farmers’ land to big industrialists.
Taking advantage of the huge anti-incumbency against the ruling BJP in the area, Gohil talks about how farmers, labourers, tribals and Dalits were conveniently ignored by the saffron party and their lands and source of livelihood were given to big industrialists at throwaway prices.