In the Viramgam Assembly constituency in Gujarat, first-time Congress Member of Legislative Assembly and a practising gynaecologist, Tejashree Patel, defeated sitting Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Pragji Patel. She tells Premal Balan the people of Hansalpur, where a new Maruti Suzuki plant is coming up, are unhappy.
How did your political journey begin?
My husband was the Viramgam city Congress president in 1997. He did a lot of work for the party. Then, in 2000, I contested the district panchayat elections from Viramgam taluka. I was the chairperson in district panchayat for five years — as the standing committee chairperson for the first two-and-a-half years, and as the head of the district health committee for the remaining period. On the basis of my good work, the Congress party gave me the ticket to contest the Assembly polls in 2007. But I lost by a narrow margin of 677 votes. Again, appreciating my dedication to work for the party, they nominated me from Viramgam where I won by a margin of 16,983 votes. I am constantly working with the people of my constituency and trying to help them with their problems.
So, how do you feel now about becoming a member of legislative Assembly (MLA)?
I am happy to be here. But our party's big leaders lost the elections. As member of the Opposition, we will definitely work towards raising the people's voice in the Assembly. We will fight against the Modi government's efforts to suppress the voice of the Opposition.
How do you plan to raise issues of your constituency in the Assembly?
We will do that but with proper planning.
What, according to you, worked in your favour in the elections?
Earlier, the Viramgam Assembly constituency used to be in Mandal constituency (prior to delimitation). The constituency size, in terms of the population, has doubled since 2007, when I had last contested the elections. But, this year, since I am a gynaecologist and my husband is a general physician, we have homely relations with almost everybody. We meet the people on a day-to-day basis. We already had the Congress-committed votes, since we had made our organisation very strong in our constituency. We had the guidance of senior leaders like Ahmed Patel, Arjun Modhwadia and Shaktisinh Gohil. We had done micro-planning till the booth level. We were at an advantage in 22 villages of Koli Patels, in Viramgam town, where we practise.
Another point is that in the last elections, I had lost by merely 677 votes. That was the reason why workers and voters were aware of the situation this time. They ensured that not a single vote was lost this time. So, voters whose relatives were listed here but living outside, called them to come and vote. Congress workers were careful that all votes were cast. We also did door-to-door campaigning and held meetings with leaders of all communities in the constituency — be it Patels, Thakores, Darbars, Bharwads or Dalits; we met all, and none was left out. We tried to find out about their problems and the issues they wanted me to address. We also garnered support from party leaders for the campaign. Rahulji's sabha was a big success.
Why were the people unhappy with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA in Viramgam?
Since the last 22 years, Viramgam had only one BJP MLA in the constituency. We went on to ask the people what the BJP did for them in all those years. They told us that their basic requirements like roads, water and drainage system were not attended to. The people were unhappy because he used his local area development fund of Rs 50 lakh for deepening the ponds — or, what amounts to corruption. This was revealed from documents obtained through the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The people knew what he had done was wrong — using development funds for his own good. The people were not satisfied with the BJP legislator's work in the area. They had also opposed his candidature by the BJP.
Despite Maruti Suzuki India setting up a new plant in the constituency, why have people voted against the BJP?
I would like to mention that in Hansalpur village where the Maruti plant is coming up, the people are very unhappy. That is because they would have to evacuate the village for the plant. On the one hand, we talk about providing homes and plots to the rural poor, on the other hand, the BJP was looking to evacuate the people from villages. That was one of the reasons why the people opposed the BJP.
The Congress got a lot of votes from Hansalpur. Their concern was genuine. They are also opposing the fact that these plants would hardly provide any employment to the local people. There are five other villages that have opposed the acquisition of land for the Maruti Suzuki plant. They did not speak up before, since they were afraid of the ruling government.
How do you look at the election results?
It is a victory for the Congress. Putting up a fight against the current wave that is in favour of the present chief minister, and organising workers, is a good sign. Our seat has increased from 59 in 2007 to 61 this time.
Besides, in my constituency, Muslim voters have increased owing to delimitation. That was also in our favour. However, it is sad that the people still don't understand what Narendra Modi is doing. He always speaks about the Centre's, and never about his own shortcomings. The Congress had this time raised relevant issue such as houses for urban and rural poor and laptops for students.
Moreover, the state is developing because of the grants from the Central government. Ahmedabad became a megacity after the Congress came to power at the Centre. Actually, the development has been possible through funds from the Centre but Modi claims it has been his endeavour.
Senior leaders of the Congress lost with huge margins. What do you think went wrong?
It is shocking that they lost, despite having worked hard in their own constituencies. They have a huge contribution in state-level politics. Also, they have a big hand in our victory.
Once I meet the people and discuss the issues, I would come to know what went wrong. But what I could gather from what was being discussed at the Congress office was that they have been specifically targeted. From what has been the policy of this chief minister, to suppress the voices of these leaders, they might have been deliberately targeted. The BJP has used the power of money and other enticements to garner votes. There could be different political reasons but I am not aware of that. If the people wanted to elect good people, then such people (from BJP) should not have won.
Are there issues of malnutrition or maternal mortality in your region?
Malnutrition is a problem in my constituency. But that was not the situation two decades ago when I began practising as a doctor. There is an improvement in infant and maternal mortality rates. Here, people get benefits from both the Central and the state government programmes.