Porbandar on India’s western coastline reflects the calm and peaceful demeanour that its greatest son Mahatma Gandhi wears in a lifesize portrait hanging in Kirti Mandir, his birthplace-turned-museum. But only a few follow Bapu’s teachings now.
People in Porbandar are sympathetic towards Congress which claims to follow Mahatma’s principles of truth and non-violence, but they believe in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an old-time RSS worker, for keeping the port city safe.
In the last assembly elections, Porbandar chose Bharatiya Janata Party’s Babubhai Bhimabhai Bokhiriya over Congress candidate Arjunbhai Devabhai Modhvadiya in a close contest.
“This is the home town of Gandhi Ji, but no one follows his principles of satya and ahimsa now,” says 51-year-old Muktesh Mandaliya outside his home in the neighbourhood of Kirti Mandir.
Speaking to The New Indian, Mandaliya, whose father walked along with Bapu during the 1930 Dandi March to oppose the British empire’s laws on salt production, feels a lot has changed for the Congress on the ground.
“People on the top in Congress are good, but the situation on the ground is totally different… People favour the BJP and it will come to power again,” the quinquagenarian declares.
In a bylane alongside Kirti Mandir, a fisherman feels Mahatma’s values are no longer relevant for the young generation. “We have full faith in Modi Ji. We don’t see other BJP leaders, we see Modi Ji. He has taken BJP way ahead of Congress,” the 31-year-old man says.
He complains of rising prices of diesel, but chooses to ignore “such minor issues”.
Another local, a 34-year-old man, believes PM Modi is the only political leader who can “save the country”.
“I don’t want Congress or the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to come to power. I want the BJP.”
Merely a few blocks away from the three-storey Kirti Mandir is the maternal home of Mahatma’s wife Kasturba Gandhi. Standing outside the humble building, a woman, in her 50s, says her family like many others still live the minimalist life once popularised by Mahatma.
“People still follow his teachings. The kind of life lived by him gives you happiness. If you are truthful, you may face temporary setbacks but you will eventually triumph,” the woman opines.
A staunch supporter of PM Modi, she explains her affection for the BJP: “BJP has maintained peace in the state. There are no riots now. Had Congress been in power, there would be riots because of (the Ram temple) construction. Modi Ji takes a stand for the country. Under the BJP rule, women feel safe. They have got freedom.”
Similar sentiments echo across Porbandar town.
However, there are still some devout supporters of the Grand Old Party, who feels the party represents values laid down by the founders of India.
“BJP does not understand the pain of the common man, Congress does. Inflation has made life difficult. The hometown of Gandhi Ji has no industries. There were two factories here that were shut down by the BJP,” says a 42-year-old man.
He, however, agrees with his fellow towners that the number of Mahatma’s followers is on the decline.
The most common complaint against the BJP government is the rising inflation, but it is unlikely to dent its performance in Porbandar. “I agree that the inflation level is high but there are other great things. Do we want to live like slaves in a weak country that offers products at cheap rates?” another woman questions.
Sitting MLA Bhimabhai Bokhiriya, Congress’ Arjunbhai Devabhai Modhwadiya, and AAP candidate Jeevan Jungi are in the fray in Porbandar, which goes to polls on December 1.