“His number is ...,” Padvala sarpanch Sumra Kasam announces to a group of villagers gathered near a mosque. “Anyone can call him even at midnight. If there is no reply, he will get back at daybreak.”
Radadiya, sitting next to him, interrupts: “I hardly sleep. So there is very little chance of a missed call.”
It is Thursday, the day after Radadiya took part in the Lok Sabha debate on the FDI-in-retail bill. Having arrived in the morning from Delhi, he is attending his 17th public meeting for the day. Dressed in a crisp white shirt and white trousers, sporting sports shoes, Radadiya leaves his SUV at the village entrance and walks through narrow lanes where supporters are dancing to drumbeats to welcome him. Currency notes are showered on him from a crowd that includes Muslims, Dalits and Patels.
An estimated dozen criminal cases are registered against him, including assault and threat, but Radadiya has always connected with his voters, a fact borne out by his unbeaten run in elections since 1990. Asked about the impact of the gun-flashing incident, Radadiya is unapologetic. “People want a strong leader,” he says. “They now love me even more.”
The farmer leader’s unbroken victory run has been marked by party-hopping. He was an Independent when he won from Dhoraji in 1990. He joined the BJP in 1995, went on to support the Shankersinh Vaghela group in rebelling against the Keshubhai Patel government, and joined the new outfit Rashtriya Janata Party. In 1998, when the RJP lost heavily, Radadiya was among only four to win their seats. Following the RJP’s merger into the Congress, Radadiya has since 2002 contested as a Congress candidate.
He won his maiden Lok Sabha election in 2009. He vacated his Assembly seat and his son Jayesh won the by-election. After delimitation, most of the villages previously in Dhoraji have become part of Jetpur, from where the son is now contesting. And the father has returned to the restructured Dhoraji, which includes parts of the erstwhile Upleta constituency, and which has 2.3 lakh voters.
“I don’t need to introduce myself,” he says at a public meeting at Arni village. “People know me and my work of the past 20 years.”
“He is the one who as Rajkot District Cooperative Bank chairman waived interest on all farm loans in the year of scanty rains,” says a supporter.
“Social work through power,” say slogans in Gujarati on posters that dot the single-lane road connecting Dhoraji to Arni, Padvala and other villages. His SUV is followed by five cars that halt with him at these prosperous villages. The meetings are sometimes under a tree, sometimes at a community hall and sometimes even at a road junction.
Jetpur and Dhoraji, the seats father and son are contesting, are both dominated by Leuva Patels, their own community. The community is also being mobilised under the religious organisation Khodaldham Trust, associated with Keshubhai Patel but with Radadiya, too, as one of the trustees.
Khodaldham finds hardly a mention on his campaign. He targets his BJP opponent Hari Patel and Chief Minister Narendra Modi, but ignores the candidate of Keshubhai’s GPP.
Radadiya has been credited with the crowd mobilised for Sonia Gandhi’s October public meet in Rajkot. It sparked speculation over whether he would be rewarded with a ministerial berth. What happened instead was Radadiya getting a ticket for himself as well as his son for the Assembly polls.