PORBANDAR: Though still in the making, Ahmedabad has a formidable riverfront that it can flaunt to the world. The Bandar or the sea-front stretch of Porbandar has no such leverage. Not because it’s a busy port — only two-three small vessels are anchored or afloat — but because it’s rather low on the cleanliness parameter.
The only place in Porbandar that can really be called ‘swachh’ in the true sense of the term is Kirti Mandir, the memorial built adjacent to Mahatma Gandhi’s ancestral haveli, his birthplace. Perhaps because it attracts a few foreign tourists, who reverentially walk around the photo galleries and the living quarters of the dewans of the Jethwa Rajputs of Porbandar more than a century ago.
The back lane that leads to Kasturba Gandhi’s much smaller ancestral home resembles the rest of Porbandar city — a bit unkempt, fraying and ignored. It’s odd for a historical place to look as if it was abandoned in history. Not a good advertisement for any municipal body. Nor for Mahatma tourism. Even the row of havelis on the sea-front, similarly decrepit now, stand as shabby reminders of a time when Porbandar was a prosperous port town.
At the moment, all that is irrelevant. The city and its hinterland are awaiting ‘Modi magic’. The contest is between two heavyweights — BJP’s Babu Bokhiria and Congress’s Arjun Modhwadia. The minister for fisheries and animal husbandry, Bokhiria wrenched the seat from two-term MLA and ex-GPCC chief Modhwadia in 2012. Porbandar seems to be perpetually caught in a contest between the two.
Except for an outsider, the Gandhi legacy has little resonance in either the city or the constituency. Kailash, who sells namkin just outside Kirti Mandir (the Kathiawar part of Saurashtra is famous for its snacks), says: “Gandhiji is an old story. We’re waiting for Modi magic — it’ll happen. We’ll get good roads like Gujarat (people of Saurashtra often make this distinction, referring to the rest of the state as Gujarat), our Bandar will get a facelift. The BJP will get votes, not for the candidate but for the PM.’’
Surprisingly, Porbandar does lag behind in this big parameter of ‘vikas’ — which is roads. “We don’t trust any politicians — all are the same. They just hop from one party to another, chasing power. We remain where we are — neglected,’’ says Harsanbhai, a jeweller whose family has been engaged in the trade as goldsmiths for two centuries.
Bokhiria, however, completely disagrees with the negative take. He cites many development projects that are in the pipeline that will “transform” Porbandar. “Big projects take time,’’ he quips, citing the plan to build over a dozen landing centres and eight new harbours, plus the sand-dredging that would help address a key grouse of fishermen. Not to mention the diary cooperative that has made Porbandar a milk centre like Anand.
The fisherfolk here are up in arms, one of the angry segments of Gujarat — the reason why Modhwadia got Rahul to launch his election campaign for the first phase from here. The Congress vice-president duly promised a separate ministry for fisheries if the Congress is voted to power.
Modhawadia is banking big time on the controversies around Bokhiria. He was convicted in a sand-mining case, though acquitted later by the high court. The locals agree that the former GPCC chief has a cleaner image than the minister.
But can they vote for a party that’s not in power at the Centre? “Porbandar badly needs attention. A vote for Modi can ensure funds from the Centre. Can the Congress get us development projects? It’s not just about MSPs and GST,’’ says a local eatery shop owner.