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Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi does not care about election season as politicians have forsaken them

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Residents say there has been hardly any development, and there’s a total lack of employment opportunities nearby, forcing people to leave the country.

Dandi, Gujarat: The frantic Gujarat election campaign seems to have passed Dandi by. On a warm Saturday afternoon, two weeks before it goes to the polls in the first phase on 9 December, the village in Navsari district, famous for Mahatma Gandhi’s salt satyagraha, wears a near-deserted look.

Thakur Patel sits in his paan shop chatting with a friend, with no customers in sight. He refuses to talk about who he thinks should get elected in the state, or the constituency of Jalalpore under which Dandi falls. The election, he says, is barely a part of everyday discourse in Dandi, and there is absolutely no pre-election activity.

Patel, however, does highlight what several residents of Dandi seem to articulate – that under the glamour of its historic significance lies a complete lack of job opportunities and barely-there development. Jalalpore, initially a Congress stronghold, has been electing a BJP legislator – R.C. Patel – since 2002.

“There has been no real work done in Dandi. It is a world famous place, but nothing has been done for it, even in the name of Gandhi. We need a wall to prevent the sea water from pushing into the village. At this rate, Dandi won’t survive in the next few decades. But nobody is bothered,” he says.

“It’s most disturbing, however, that there are no jobs here. The closest opportunities are in Surat (about 30 km away) or Valsad (about 130 km away), but there are no proper buses to help people commute those distances every day. That is why most migrate out of Dandi, and mostly to the Middle-Eastern countries. I would say nearly 50 per cent people leave for jobs,” he adds.

Thakur admits that the road, power and household water infrastructure are all good, but says there’s nothing else.

His friend, Ratilal Patel, chips in: “This village looks good only because all those who left Dandi and are now NRIs have built nice-looking houses here. Most of them, however, are empty. That is all there is to Dandi, despite being a tourist spot. What difference does it make who comes to power? Our MLA has done little.”

Paresh Kumar arrives to buy some supari at the paan shop. On being quizzed, he says he was in Oman for two years. “I returned a few months ago. I do nothing currently. There is nothing to do here. No industries. Even farming can’t be done, because getting water for irrigation is a problem. So most people are into livestock rearing,” he says.

“This village is significant only because of its history, there is nothing else here. Nothing has been done for the inhabitants of the village,” he adds.

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Surat
Dandi, Gujarat. Ruhi Tewari/ThePrint

Across the road, a group of young boys chat at the bus stop. “I just finished my college at Eru Char Rasta (about 15 kilometres from the village). I’m now looking for some work. But there is nothing here. I will have to leave Dandi,” says Pragnesh Patel, adding that a “poor phone network at a tourist spot is a big issue”. Pragnesh, however, says the BJP has been powerful in the state and his constituency, and predicts it will continue to be so.

As you enter Dandi, Mahendra Patel’s grocery store is the first to greet you, one of the very few shops in the village. “Here, roads are good, there is water and electricity. I am happy with the BJP and want them back. But yes, there is no water for irrigation, so farming can’t be done. This is a big issue, given there are no jobs here anyway,” he says.

As we speak, two customers arrive. They are NRIs, he says, who moved out years ago and are just visiting. “They moved out of India like most people here do, in search of better employment opportunities,” he says.

Geetaben, who runs a small store selling tea and hot snacks near the Dandi beach, says her children are still studying, but will have to either move out when they want to work, or take over her kiosk. “Elections are the last thing on our minds. Whoever has to win, will win. Maybe, BJP again. We just focus on our lives,” she says.

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