A lone guard keeps an eye on the remains of the Jhulto Bridge here in Morbi. The ominously named bridge collapsed on Oct. 31, crushing and drowning 135 people in the rocky Machchhu River below.
It is a 10-minute drive from this place to the election office of Kantilal Amrutiya, the candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Decorating the shamiyana the office has large banners and posters depicting his political journey, starting with a 1979 photograph showing him assisting in rescue and relief operations after the Machchhu Dam burst, killing thousands.
The following flex has a picture of Amrutiya with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the latter visited Morbi for two months. pravas.
“See these pictures. I’ve been one sevak of the Sangh since childhood. Everyone knows me here because I am always among them. They are fighting the elections, not me,” said Amrutiya, popularly known as Kanhabhai.
Amrutiya was denied a ticket from Morbi in the 2020 bypoll after Congress leader Brijesh Merja, who had defeated the former in the 2017 election, jumped to the BJP. The Saffron side drafted Merja in the bypoll and won, marking a return from the Morbi seat to its kitty.
The BJP won the seat for 27 years but lost it in 2017 due to Hardik Patel’s Patidar andolan. At least all three candidates from BJP, Congress and AAP think so.
Forty-three years after the 1979 tragedy, Amrutiya again jumped into the Machchhu River when the Jhulto Bridge collapsed on October 31. Carrying a life-saving tube, Amrutiya asked fishermen to bring in their nets and tried to save as many people as possible. . The images of his daring rescue attempt went viral. Many in the BJP believe that while Amrutiya is an influential leader in these pockets, it is this act that got him a ticket for the upcoming Gujarat elections.
When asked if the Morbi bridge collapse is an election issue this time around, Amrutiya dodges the question, saying the government is doing everything it can to help the survivors.
Meanwhile, Congress is doing everything it can to ensure that Morbi stays at the top of the electoral discourse. Amrutiya’s rival in Morbi and congressional candidate Jayanti Jerajbhai Patel says his party will end “27 years of BJP misrule”.
“The party has ruined the state. The deaths in the crash of the Morbi bridge are certainly a problem. The state is deeply shocked by the loss of so many lives. We do our campaign without popping crackers, without dhol nagadas. We keep it simple,” says Patel.
The AAP office across the street from the BJPs doesn’t seem to be too busy even though the candidate was inside. Surrounded by six people, Pankajbhai Ransarya says roads and education are his top priority.
“Morbi is also definitely a problem here… Roads are broken and it has been 27 years, but the BJP has failed to develop good schools in the area. There is inflation. AAP is engaged in development politics such as improving education and health sectors and would like to implement it in Gujarat,” he says.
The Supreme Court had asked Gujarat High Court to oversee the investigation and determine liability and Amrutiya is confident that this will be a smooth process. “Achhi tarah se karega,” he says.
It’s not that the tragedy is a non-issue, but many don’t see it as an electoral one in Morbi. The BJP and AAP are focusing on developing roads and water for irrigation, while the Congress hopes it will succeed in turning the bridge collapse into an election issue.
Amrutiya, who has represented Morbi for five terms, says improving roads is his number one priority. “We have four access roads to enter Morbi. We need to improve these roads and work to bring water to the area,” he says.
Amrutiya adds that the controversy over AAP leader Satyendra Jain’s ‘massage video’ in Delhi’s Tihar prison is also a non-issue in Morbi. “I am not talking about the opposition, I am only talking about myself and the work of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” said the BJP candidate. “Morbi people trust me and AAP ko main ladai me ginta hi nahi (I do not consider AAP as my competitor).”
However, AAP’s Ransarya claims that the BJP is trying to raise the issue nationally for political milestones. “The BJP created the problem. But that won’t be a problem here.”
Amrutiya has claimed he would win the polls for the sixth time. “The congressional candidate has lost to me six times. He has no luck in politics. Congress has no candidate to run so they relisted Jayantibhai Patel,” says Amrutiya.
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