Activist and 3-time BJP MLA Kanu Kalsaria joins Congress. Major boost for the party
The crossing over of former three-time Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Kanubhai Kalsaria to the Congress in Gujarat is a big image booster for the latter. While the BJP has been gloating about the recent successful poaching of Koli leader Kunvarji Bavaliya to its camp, Kalsaria joining the Congress is being seen as an equally important move in the political chess-board in the state. Kalsaria is a leader with a clean image and mass acceptance in the all-important Saurashtra region of the state that sends 58 of the 182 MLAs to the state assembly. His joining the grand old party will address the credibility crisis that it has been facing over the years.
Kalsaria was inducted into the Congress by the party president Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on Wednesday after a brief meeting that was also attended by the All India Congress Committee's Gujarat in-charge Rajeev Satav. Kalsaria was the BJP MLA from Mahuva seat near Bhavnagar for three terms from 1998 onwards. He had quit the saffron camp ahead of the 2012 assembly polls to form a Sadbhavna Manch and had unsuccessfully contested the polls as an independent. More recently, he also had a small stint with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that failed to take off in Gujarat.
Kalsaria has been known more as a social activist than a politician. He will be remembered for spearheading a farmers' agitation from 2008 onwards against the Gujarat government under the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi for allegedly allocating large tracts of wetland to Nirma Industries for setting up a cement plant in his constituency.
The matter is still caught in legal wrangles but his efforts at that time ensured that the cement factory initiative did not take off. He had carried out the agitation successfully while being a MLA of the ruling party and that too at a time when Modi was the chief minister and nobody dared to speak against him.
In 2011, Kalsaria had led a 330 km farmers' march on the issue from Dholiya village in Mahuva to Gandhinagar. It was in Dholiya village that a government created reservoir to check salinity ingress was falling prey to the proposed cement plant. This was one of the largest people's march that has been witnessed by the country after independence. The question posed by the agitators was that what was the necessity to build a cement plant on a wetland. The result was that the then Congress led UPA government at the Centre had withdrawn the environment clearance given to the company. The agitation was a big embarrassment for Modi and the BJP.
“He is an epitome of simplicity and has done so much for the society. He is a general surgeon who has set up two hospitals in Mahuva and Kalsar village in the coastal interiors that are being run by the Sadbhavna Trust. These hospitals are a model in public health care where surgeries that cost up to Rs 1 lakh in other private hospitals are being performed for a mere Rs 5,000 which is mainly the administrative cost. The poor who cannot pay at that time are told to pay the fee whenever they have the money later. People have been paying the money in later months and years. Since coastal Saurashtra is rife with the problem of kidney stones, his hospitals have earned the nomenclature of 'Pathrini Hospital' (Hospital of Stones). More than one lakh people have availed the health care benefits at these hospitals for a nominal sum,” said a political observer who has penned a book in Gujarati on Kalsaria's contribution to the society.
“Kalsaria had contested the 1998 polls as a greenhorn against the former chief minister Chhabildas Mehta and had emerged as a giant-killer by defeating the latter. Though he won twice again from the Mahuva seat, he has remained people's servant than their ruler. He lives a life of 'voluntary poverty' wherein he has been taking a minimal remuneration from the hospital and has been residing in a small two room accommodation in the hospital compound in Wadli village. Despite coming from the OBC community of Ahirs, he never availed reservation benefits for any of his three daughters one of whom is a bright surgeon.”
He disclosed that his contemporaries in the medical profession, most of whom are strong RSS and BJP workers prevented him from joining the Congress before. He also believes that Kalsaria's small stint with AAP was also a waste of his energies.
Talking to Catch, Kalsaria said, “Having spent more than 15 years in the BJP I studied the party well from inside. Even while being their MLA I fought them on people's issues. I also tried AAP but it has no future in Gujarat. All the present political parties are more or less the same. In the BJP there is a lot of show but people are not able to express themselves while in the Congress there is democracy inside.”
He said that while Modi has the gift of being a good orator who can publicise things and make a show of things, the fact is that the BJP is empty inside. “The voice of the villages is never heard in the urban areas. The image of all good is presented outside in the cities through media which is not true,” he added.
Kalsaria said that good people should join Congress and build up a clean image of the party. “I am asked why I did not try to cleanse the BJP while remaining inside that party. I want to say that no one can attempt to cleanse it till the time Modi is there. When people like Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Keshubhai Patel were conveniently sidelined people like me never stood anywhere,” he added.
Congress spokesperson in Gujarat, Manish Doshi said that Kalsaria's arrival in the party is a big boost to the party's image. “He is a man who is sensitive to the people and the issues concerning them. He is a man connected to the ground. The Congress will go a long distance with his arrival and if more people like him join the party fold,” he said. It remains to be seen how Congress utilises Kalsaria's positive image for making electoral inroads ahead of the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.