On February 5, 2010, hundreds of villagers carrying banners walked in single file by the Sarkhej-Gandhinagar highway till they reached the Gujarat High Court, where they were detained.
Twenty days later, MLA Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria, rebelling within the BJP, led 5,000 supporters to Ahmedabad again, planning to march from Sabarmati ashram to the Assembly and protest against Nirma’s proposed cement plant in Bhavnagar district, which vilagers called a threat to the artificial reservoir they drank from.
Since then, Kalsaria’s “movement” has gained support wherever locals were resisting what they perceived as industries swallowing up their farmland, fishing grounds, pastures and salt pans. Those throwing their weight behind the movement include activists such as social worker Chunibhai Vaidya, 95, former finance minister Sanat Mehta, farmers’ leaders from the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, academics and lawyers such as Anand Yagnik.
Dr Kalsaria, a surgeon and trustee of Sadbhavna Hospital in Mahuva, has more or less severed ties with the BJP. His group, the Sadbhavna Manch, hopes to win seats in the region where the movement was born, buoyed by victory in nine seats in Mahuva’s taluka panchayat and then in two more in Bhavnagar district panchayat.
The manch has fielded independent candidates in five geographically contiguous constituencies in Bhavnagar and Amreli districts. “Bharat Thakkar in Mahuva and Shivrajsinh Vasia in Savarkundla were leaders during the anti-Nirma movement, Narsinh Chauhan in Rajula is the spouse of that taluka’s panchayat president, and Dr Manhar Baldaria in Talaja is, like Dr Kalsaria, a surgeon,” says Kripalsinh, a retired government employee involved in the movement.
Volunteers at the manch’s campaigns are by no means limited to residents of this small corner of the Saurashtra peninsula. Rahim Ramzani Ali Jinani, a young volunteer in jeans and T-shirt, is from Jamnagar at the peninsula’s opposite end.
On the sidelines of a short meeting at a village, Jinani explains why he has come from so far away. He flicks a pebble a short distance and says, “That’s how close the borders of the Reliance SEZ is from my farm now.” His neighbour Sunil Modhwadia adds, “We fear losing our land like many around us have. Dr Kalsaria led a movement against a big industry and won. He gives us hope.”
The pamphlet in Modhwadia’s hand carries an illustration showing a hand emerging from a CEO’s chair and crushing a student and a farmer.
Jinani, his neighbours and others accompany Kalsaria to five villages, exhorting crowds