On his first visit to his home state Gujarat after a stunning victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, a grand welcome for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Surat by the BJP set the tone for the crucial assembly elections to be held later this year.
Through the 12km long roadshow – also seen as a show of strength – in the city that has emerged as the nerve centre for the Patidar agitation for OBC quota, the BJP tried to assert its position in the state. For the BJP, which has already set its eyes on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, holding on to its bastion for the sixth consecutive term will be another stepping stone after conquering Uttar Pradesh.
With the Congress making hardly any visible effort to resurrect after winning countryside in the 2015 local body elections, the Hardik Patel-led disgruntled Patidars, a crucial vote bank for the BJP, have emerged as the biggest challenge for the BJP in its 22nd year of rule.
Picking Surat for the roadshow is significant in more way than one for BJP. While it is the main centre of south Gujarat, reaching out to a large number of diamond polishers who have migrated from Saurashtra will also have ripple effects in this politically most important region of the state.
Opting to inaugurate the Kiran Multispeciality Hospital – built by the Surat Municipal Corporation with help from a trust financed by Patidar businessmen – will send out a loud and clear message that the community is with the BJP. Besides, Modi will also inaugurate a diamond factory where Patidars from Saurashtra form a major chunk of the workforce.
In a way, the roadshow was also seen as an answer to the embarrassment that the party faced after BJP president Amit Shah was forced to cut short his speech in September 2016 when Hardik’s supporters created ruckus at his rally venue.
The stretch from the city airport to the Circuit House witnessed a Diwali-like atmosphere, with a sea of people queuing up on either side of illuminated streets to catch a glimpse of the PM who kept waving at the crowd through the sunroof of his SUV. The lighting arrangement along the route was done to project the Tricolur.
Earlier, chief minister Vijay Rupani welcomed Modi at the airport. Muslim women in significant numbers were seen outside the airport, also waiting to welcome him. A kit held by them in their hands read, ’Bandh ho ye anyay, PM hai hamari aas’. It was seen as a reference to the issue of triple talaq against which the NDA government has taken a firm stand.
Known as the textile city that produces sarees, the route near the airport was decorated with sarees with development schemes and projects printed on it. A 20-foot statue and cutouts of Modi dotted the route.