On 20 July 2010, two assailants gunned down RTI activist and environmentalist Amit Jethwa near the Gujarat High Court complex in Ahmedabad. Despite being injured, Jethwa tried to catch the men who shot him. They escaped, but not before he grabbed the kurta of one of his assailants.
Jethwa succumbed to his injuries. He was only 34. But, the kurta he had grabbed had a laundry tag from a shop in Junagadh and eventually helped to track his killers.
Nine years later, on 11 July, seven were sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering Jethwa. Among them is former BJP MP from Junagadh, Dinu Solanki, his nephew Shiva Solanki and a former policeman Bahadursinh Vadher.
But this story isn’t just about Jethwa’s murder. It is about how a don-like figure such as Dinu Solanki thrived under the BJP’s rule in the state and was eventually booked because of Jethwa’s tenacity.
Solanki’s Rise in the BJP
The story is set in Kodinar, a small town located between the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and the Somnath Temple in the Saurashtra region in Gujarat. Despite the two attractions nearby, for the previous couple of decades, Kodinar has come to be synonymous with one man: Dinu Bogabhai Solanki.
Though Solanki was an influential figure and a successful businessman in the district since the late 1980s, his major turning point came in 1997, when Ambuja Cements set up a factory in the area.
Solanki’s companies began providing transportation and other logistical support to Ambuja and Solanki’s wealth grew manifold. Soon, his business expanded into mining, cooperatives, shipping and construction. His firm,Rajmoti, even started a local television channel. The entire empire is a largely family-run enterprise, with Solanki’s sons, brother and nephews running the show.
What added to Solanki’s clout is the solid support of his Karadia Rajput community, the dominant caste group in the area.
When the BJP was trying to establish its hold over Gujarat, it looked towards strongmen like Solanki, which helped him rise in the party. He won the 1998 Assembly election from Kodinar and was re-elected in 2002 and 2007 as well.
Solanki’s clout increased even more after Narendra Modi became the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001. Even at his peak, Modi faced recurrent problems in the Saurashtra region, which was considered the bastion of his predecessor Keshubhai Patel.
Caste divisions often trump communal polarisation in the region and it remained somewhat untouched by the BJP wave after the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom.
Therefore, Modi had to rely on several local strongmen, all belonging to one dominant caste group or another, to maintain the BJP’s hold in the region.
So it was: Solanki, a Karadia Rajput, in Kodinar, Vagher leader Pabubha Manek in Dwarka, Bhima Dula Odedara of the Mer community in Kutiyana and his relative Babu Bokhiriya in Porbandar. A later addition to this was Congress turncoat and Patidar strongman Vitthal Radadiya in Dhoraji. These leaders helped the BJP to capture not just these areas but also contributed to the consolidation of these caste groups backing the party.
During his rise in the BJP, Solanki is said to have become close to the key lieutenant of Chief Minister Modi: Amit Shah.
During the 2017 Gujarat Assembly election, Shah made it a point to visit Kodinar and campaign for Solanki’s nominee. In his speech, the BJP President praised Solanki several times. Bearing testimony to Solanki’s clout in the area, Amit Shah even told the crowd, “Won’t you clap if Dinubha doesn’t ask you to?”
Amit Jethwa Takes on Kodinar’s ‘Don’
While Solanki’s clout increased in the BJP and his multiple strands of business expanded, the other Amit, Amit Jethwa, was making his name as an environmentalist. In 2006, he filed a complaint against actor Salman Khan in connection to the killing of a Chinkara in Kutch.
In 2007, he contested against Solanki in Kodinar but managed to get only 1751 votes.
Between 2008 and 2010, he filed several Right to Information queries regarding illegal mining in the protected forest area just outside the Gir Forest National Park. Soon after, he began receiving threats from Solanki’s goons and, on at least one occasion, from the BJP leader himself.
But Jethwa continued to take on the Solankis through legal means. Jethwa’s family alleges that Solanki’s goons even thrashed him mercilessly once.
His confrontation with Solanki expanded to a battle against the Modi government in the state. He alleged that the BJP government couldn’t be trusted to act against Solanki and demanded that the illegal mining allegations be investigated by the Lokayukta. Since the government hadn’t appointed a Lokayukta, he filed a petition asking for it to be appointment. It was the result of Jethwa’s petition that Gujarat finally got a Lokayukta. Two information commissioners were also appointed because of his efforts.
However, hardly a month after he filed another PIL against illegal mining, Jethwa was shot dead outside the High Court.
The trial of Jethwa’s murder almost became a mockery, with over 100 witnesses turning hostile. Jethwa’s father, Bhikhabhai Jethwa, alleged that the witnesses were being intimidated by Solanki’s men and petitioned the court to order a CBI probe. Finally, the Supreme Court accepted his request and asked the CBI to look into the case, which has now led to Solanki’s conviction.
Jethwa’s battle against Solanki was an unequal one from the very beginning. He was up not just against Solanki, his goons and his financial muscle, but also against the state government. Eventually, he triumphed. Nothing exemplifies his tenacity more than the fact that his killer’s kurta that he grabbed while dying led to his murderer’s conviction.