Gir, Somnath: The residents of over forty villages that fall within the radius of Gir National park share a deep bond of love and care for lions of the forest. They look at these magnificent creatures as an extension of their own family and are adept at tackling village sightings of the lions without being unnerved or triggering man-animal conflicts.
A large number of people in these villages are dependent on tourism that the Asiatic lions attract in Gir. They are mostly employed as safari jeep riders, hotel owners, and tourist guides. Even though they are happy with the post-pandemic spur in tourism, the Special Economic Zone status of the forest continues to be a hindrance for them.
“We would give our vote to Baghabhai Barad, who was a Congress MLA. Now he has joined BJP. So, all his votes will now go to BJP. We will vote our candidate because he has promised us once we send him to Gandhinagar, all the restrictions imposed due to Gir being a Special Economic Zone on acquiring NoCs will be relaxed.” Zakir, a safari jeep driver, told The New Indian team.
Barad, who was a senior Congress leader had joined the BJP ahead of the assembly elections. He won from Talala constituency, in which Gir falls for the second time.
Another driver Rajesh Mohan Dholakia said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is largely responsible for boosting tourism in Gujarat. “Here Modi ji had called actor Amitabh Bacchan to promote tourism after which this business flourish over here. All other villages around Sasan have got employment due to tourism,” he said.
There are around 45 villages which come under the radius of Gir National Forest spread in three districts – Somnath, Junagarh and Amreli. Majority of youths are in the business of Safari rides or forest rangers.
On the question of AAP factor, Dholakia said “We don’t want AAP at all. We don’t want anything for free. Modiji has already given us a medical card of Rs 5 lakh (Ayushman Bharat Yojna). That’s enough for us,” he added.
There are some who believe that AAP and Congress should be given a chance and for whom inflation is a major deciding factor in terms of who they cast their vote for. “Modi ji is fine but the last government failed. AAP should get the chance. AAP and Congress should have contested together. They would have gotten the victory easily. In the BJP rule, inflation has gone up a lot,” said a jeep driver Ranjeet.
Varsha, who was deployed at one check post and also worked as a forest ranger, said that she would vote through ballot papers. “Development has happened but I don’t want to reveal the party name. Number of lions in this jungle is over 500, which should be increased more. Lion is our pride,” she added.
On the question of man-animal conflicts triggered by lion sightings in villages and outside the forest area, he said. “Lion is a royal animal. They are the king of the jungle. In Gir there is no instance of man animal conflict. We know how to deal with lions. I can vouch for the fact that whenever there are such instances, it is always humans who are at fault. If you do not disturb the lion, they will never harm you.” she said.