Karsan Bhanusali vividly remembers when he first came across Narendra Modi in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that killed nearly 20,000 people in Gujarat’s Bhuj in 2001. After 21 years, he is still beholden to the current prime minister.
Bhanusali, 44, shivers when he recalls the horror of the natural calamity, which left around 1.5 lakh people injured and more than 3.5 lakh buildings destroyed.
“I was preparing for the Republic Day celebrations early in the morning when I felt low-intensity tremors. I was convinced that it was an earthquake. I ran to evacuate two children out of my house. Within a span of around 35 seconds, another earthquake struck Kutch, and my house along with many others came crumbling down,” he tells The New Indian.
He says there was mayhem all around for 22 days in Kutch, especially in Bhuj. “There was dust all around, people were screaming, and those injured were running for life. It was very difficult to see anything,” says Bhanusali who risked his life to save as many people as possible after the earthquake.
Frantic efforts by the government and social & religious organisations followed. “After a few days, Modi Ji came to the town. He was nothing at that time. He came on a Yamaha bike and assured people of necessary help,” he says, adding, “I will vote for the BJP in this election as well.”
Months after the tragedy, Modi was sworn in as the chief minister of Gujarat in October 2001. “And he kept his promise. He put in massive efforts for the reconstruction of Kutch and helped locals restart their life,” says another man in Bhuj one of the six assembly constituencies in Kutch – Abdasa, Rapar, Mandvi, Anjar and Gandhidham.
Three assembly seats of Kutch – Abdasa, Rapar, and Bhuj are situated along the international border with Pakistan.
In Bhuj, Vasan Ben does not tire of praising PM Modi for his role in the rehabilitation of the affected people. “My blessings are with Modi Ji. He will come (to power) again. I have been voting for the BJP,” says the 91-year-old woman, who is also known as Meta Ben or the woman with a sweet voice.
New entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is contesting all six seats in Kutch and has promised promises for free services like electricity. But promises of freebies do not go down well with many in the region.
“He makes big but false promises. He does not have anything,” Vasan Ben says. She feels Congress is not an option in these polls. “Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were good. They did good work but after that, the party is on the decline.”
40-year-old Pushpa lost seven of her family members in the catastrophic earthquake. “Post-quake months were very difficult for us. But the government gave everything to us. They built a new home for every affected family. My vote will definitely go to the BJP,” she declares.
The largest district in the entire Gujarat, Kutch goes to elections on Thursday, December 1.