On December 11, when Saurashtra goes to polls in the first phase of Gujarat Assembly election, a new experiment will unfold in the birthplace of Gandhiji.
For the first time in the country, "micro-observers", appointed by the Election Commission, will be deployed in Saurashtra and other parts of the state to check bogus and forced voting.
"A town synonymous with Gandhiji has ironically been bracketed with the mining mafia for the last few years. However, on the polling day, the two constituencies, Porbandar and Kutiyana, will tell the world how they respond to the new system," says district collector M B Parmar.
The micro observers will consist of government employees, who will be randomly selected from the district.
"They will be allotted a polling booth each. However, they will get to know a particular polling booth only in the early hours of December 11," says Parmar.
There are over 3 lakh voters for the two Assembly constituencies.
"These micro-observers will remain inside a booth and see whether genuine voters are able to use their voting rights. They will report to the three general observers already slotted for the district," says Parmar.
Security has also been stepped up in the area. "Twelve companies (about 1200 personnel) of central paramilitary forces will join the 700-strong police force for the poll duty," says K L N Rao, Superintendent of Police, Porbandar.
He says police have identified at least 155 polling booths as sensitive and hyper-sensitive. More forces are also on standby. According to the District Collector, nearly 95 per cent of the voters have already been issued photo identity cards.
Porbandar's coastline gives it an economic leg-up, since cargo handling, fisheries and bauxite and limestone mining remain as its core business.
Groundnut and cotton are staple crops of the region. However, it's the mining business running into crores that has given rise to organised crime.
"The only issue here is the mining mafia. And don't forget the so-called godmother Santokben Jadeja belongs to Porbandar," says Faruk Surya, a youth leader of the Congress.
"The Godmother has left Porbandar for Rajkot. However, her cronies still run the show at many places, although they are quite inactive these days following tough police action," says the SP.
The coastal town is a Congress stronghold. In the 2002 polls, Congress nominee Arjunbhai Devabhai Modhavadiya had defeated BJP's Bokhiria Babubhai Bhimabhai by over 5,000 votes.
"The difference this time is that Bokhiria is in jail for huge limestone theft. And the current BJP candidate Santaben Odedra is relatively a newcomer, although her family has had association with the Congress," says Modhavadiya, who is also the Leader of Opposition the Gujarat Assembly.
The two rivals, BJP and Congress, belong to the aggressive community of the Mehr. "Our plank is Chief Minister Narendra Modi. It is only during his tenure that the district has rid itself of all kinds of criminals, extortionists and hired goons. Plus, being a woman, I have the advantage of challenging Modhavadiya," says Santaben.
Modhavadiya claims the state government is obstructing his development efforts.
"We have severe water shortage in the city area, our drainage system is primitive, roads are in a poor state and organized crime is rising. I am sure the people in the district as well as the entire state will not forgive the BJP government," says Modhavadiya.
The two rival parties are accusing each other of hobnobbing with the mining mafia. Taxes worth crores of rupees are suspected to having been evaded even as bauxite and lime-stone mining continues in the name of dummy traders, say