As Rami Malek walked up to receive his best actor Oscar for portraying Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, few Brits in the audience would have drawn a parallel between Freddie and the Indian Parliamentary constituency of Valsad. Valsad, formerly known as Bulsar, is the district in the Indian state of Gujarat that Freddie’s family name Bulsara was derived from. For the Americans meanwhile who also wouldn’t have heard of Valsad, it in many ways is what Ohio is for the United States of America. As a bellwether state, Ohio invariably always votes for the Presidential candidate who goes on to became the President of the US. In India, Valsad has the distinction of being the only constituency in India that has always voted for the party that goes on to form the government at the Centre. Atleast, the results of the last 11 general elections since 1977 seem to suggest so.
In 1977, when the first non-Congress government was formed at the Centre, Congress rebel Nanubhai Patel was elected as the Janata Party candidate. The Janata Party alliance formed the first ever non-Congress government at the centre that year. The Congress candidate Uttambhai Patel won the two subsequent general elections from Valsad in 1980 and 1984. These elections would also see Congress governments under Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv at the Centre. In the 1989 elections, people of Valsad Parliamentary constituency voted for Janata Dal candidate Ajunbhai Patel. The Janata Dal was elected to power at the centre which would see VP Singh as India’s PM fo the next couple of years. In 1991, when the Congress was voted to power at the Centre, Uttambhai Patel was again elected as the party’s candidate from Valsad. From 1996 to 1999, India witnessed three elections with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led alliances at the centre. Valsad on all these occasions voted BJP’s Manibhai Chaudhri. In 2004 and 2009, Valsad voted for Congress' Kishanbhai Patel. At the centre Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) ruled for two consecutive terms. Not surprisingly by now, when BJP stormed to power in 2014, Valsad voted for BJP candidate KC Patel.
So is it a pure statistical coincidence that Valsad is a mirror of who rules India or do people of Valsad have special sensory abilities that makes them human weathercocks? Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) sitting Member of Parliament (MP) and its 2019 candidate from Valsad KC Patel said, “I don’t know about special abilities and don’t want to say anything about it. All I know is that I will win in Valsad. The BJP will form the government at the Centre. And Narendra Modi will be the Prime Minister yet again.”
Apart from Freddie Mercury (Farrokh Bulsara), Valsad has seen other greats like Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw and actors like Nirupa Roy, the eternal mother of Indian cinema, trace their roots to the place. Former Indian Prime Minister Moraji Desai was born in Valsad when it was still named Bulsar.
The coastal district is a rather insignificant part of Gujarat – comprising less than two per cent of its land area and three per cent of its population. But it’s Valsad that the Parsis (the community to which Mercury was born into) would make their home after landing in Diu in the seventh century fleeing their Arab tormentors in present day Iran. 13 seasonal rivers flow through the semi-arid district and temperatures can exceed 40 degrees centigrade in summers and fall below 10 degrees centigrade in winters. Rains are good during the monsoon months from July till September with the coastal areas getting more rain than the interiors. The Valsad countryside is dotted with mango orchards which produce the world famous Alphonso (locally called Hafus) variety of mangos which drives the village rural economy to a large extent. Almost half the workforce in Valsad is engaged in agriculture. Almost a fifth of the area in Valsad is covered by forests – twice the proportion of Gujarat. Sugarcane is grown widely across the district. Its sex ratio is worse than India’s national average. Hindus form 92 per cent of its population – higher than the state average of Gujarat. Muslims comprise another 5 per cent – lower than the state average. Christians make up 1.2 per cent – higher than the state average. Importantly, more than half the population of Valsad are Scheduled Tribes (ST) which makes it a reserved parliamenteray constituency - one of the three in the state in addition to Bardoli and Chhota Udaipur. That means only tribals can contest from this seat. In rural Valsad, two-thirds of the population is tribal. The district has a literacy rate of 79 per cent – almost the same as the state average.
While Valsad along with Gujarat will vote on April 23, the rest of India will have to wait another month after people of Valsad have voted to find if this bellwether constituency has once again held a blade of grass to show which way the political winds of 2019 were blowing.