With half the ballot boxes stuffed, the clash for Gujarat moved to a new and crucial theatre — the central region where the Congress is in a desperate rematch after being wiped out by the BJP in the last elections.
Five years ago the BJP swept the seven districts, many of which have sharp communal divisions and witnessed deadly clashes in 2002. They are also home to hundreds of thousands of tribals and strong enclaves of Muslim voters.
<b1>Votes will be cast in the state’s flashpoints, including Godhra, where 59 passengers died in a burning train, as well as areas up to Ahmedabad where rioters subsequently went on a rampage.
The BJP holds 48 of the 53 seats contested in central Gujarat comprising the districts of Ahmedabad, Anand, Kheda, Bharuch, Panchmahals, Dahod, Narmada and Vadodara.
But that mathematics might change somewhat this time, and the story of two young men in Vadodara’s Kukkad village offers a window into why that is so. Between the pro-BJP Patel homes and the anti-BJP tribal homes, the village is split right down the middle.
Living on two edges of the village near Dabhoi town, Kamalbhai Patel, 34, a farmer’s son, and tribal youth Bipinbhai Tadvi, 27, son of a farm labourer, led similar lives until a point: they grew up in Kukkad, went to a school nearby, then to college in Dabhoi. From the same college, Patel got a bachelors’ degree in chemistry. Tadvi did his masters in arts.
Patel decided to become a farmer and stayed back over the past five years to look after his family’s sprawling wheat crop. His father, brother, uncles are in Michigan where they run a motel.
Tadvi, the highest educated member of the tribal community in his area, looked desperately for a job for much of the last five years. He now scrounges for work as an agricultural labourer — and gets work up to 20 days a month at Rs 30 a day.
Patel declares he loves Narendra Modi and will vote for the BJP because of its pro-Hindutva stand. Tadvi, whose community voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in 2002, says he has changed its mind this time.
“The only change in the last five years is that we get 24 hours electricity. There are no roads here. If someone falls ill, they have become a dead body by the time they reach the hospital. Pregnant women walk to get to the nearest taxi stand to go to hospital.”
The Congress is hoping for a substantial swing due to what it sees as widespread tribal discontent. A leader said they were “at the receiving end” in Ahmedabad but expected good gains in rural areas.
“The tribals have realised that they were emotionally provoked in 2002 but felt totally let down by so-called Hindu champions,” said Nirupam Nanavati, a party spokesman.
It is not that the pro-BJP Patels do not have complaints against the government. “In our homes, we get 24 hours power every day, but in the fields, it is no more than eight to 10 hours and that too only in the night time when we can’t get any labourers,” said Mahendrabhai Patel, 55. “There are no jobs here, and no health facilities.”
Still, they all say they will vote for Modi.
“Development is important and some work has been done, but we are going to vote for Modi for the cause of Hindutva,” said farmer Ketanbhai Patel, 26.
“The Congress is right, things are going to change, but it will get only better for us,” said Shabda Sharan Brahmabhatt of the BJP. “We are gaining in the tribal belt. There is going to be an earthquake — of votes.”