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Surat still loves diamonds but not Modi

Gujarat's rich and secretive diamond industry may or may not be funding the anti-Modi campaign but BJP has definitely lost the shine it had here, reports Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2007 01:48 IST
Neelesh Misra

Gujarat's rich and secretive diamond industry is grappling with a rough one: an impression that it is pumping crores of rupees to fund the dissident campaign against Narendra Modi.



Some of the top rebel leaders who quit the BJP — including former Home Minister Gordhan Zadaphiya and Dhiru Gajera — are from the diamond business. And one of the world's top diamond merchants, Jeevraj Dharukawala, is outspokenly anti-Modi.



In the run-up to the polls, the rebels have held dozens of anti-Modi meetings across Gujarat — attended, it is said, by hundreds of diamond industry workers and their families.



"Eighty per cent of the diamond industry was in favour of the BJP during the time of (former chief minister) Keshubhai Patel. That is why the BJP government was formed thrice," Dharukawala told

Hindustan Times

.



"But things changed. There was a lot of rain last year, and a lot of loss to workers and the trade in the flooding. I asked Narendrabhai for help, but he said that they could get the dole of Rs 1,250 each," Dharukawala said. "So the entire industry is against Narendrabhai, and with the Congress this time."



All this has set off speculation that the cash-rich industry, one of India's top foreign exchange earners, has turned against Modi. But it is a speculation many other leading traders are struggling to scotch.



"There is no such thing (like the industry being anti-Modi). This is a misunderstanding. Whoever is doing anything is doing it in his individual capacity. There is groupism but funds are going at a personal level," said Praveen Nanavati, former president of the Surat Diamond Manufacturers' Association.



"Earlier, the industry association collected money and gave it to one party or the other. But now it is purely on the basis of personal relations," he added.



Most of the world's diamond processing is done in and around Surat, where lakhs of artisans go to thousands of units every day under the scrutiny of closed-circuit TV, sophisticated finger-printing machines and hawk-eyed security guards. Smaller diamond cutting centres are located in Navsari, Ahmedabad, Bhavnagar, Palanpur and Valsad.



Annual revenues of this industry are estimated at over Rs 70,000 crore. Last year, India exported diamonds totaling 350 lakh carats, valued at Rs 49,000 crore — nearly all of it from Gujarat. Despite the visible security — and the fact that the industry is corporatising — the deals themselves are often paperless, based on trust and verbal commitments.



This mega business suffered deep damage last year when Surat went under monsoon floods.



Many units were temporarily shut down. Water entered vaults in factory basements, where rough diamonds flown in from Belgium and South Africa are kept under tight security. Cut diamonds and business documents were washed away, and expensive equipment was destroyed.



The state's Diamond Promotion Council estimated the losses at Rs 4,000 crore.



"The diamond industry had asked for low-interest loans to owners and to help workers, but none came," said Dharukawala. "So we have turned against Modi."



But several traders rejected the allegations.



"Zero per cent people are against Modi. This has nothing to do with the industry," said Savajibhai Dholakia, a top trader. And even if there had been a few dissenters, Dholakia said, the industry as a whole would never oppose any party.



"We are traders. By definition we cannot be against anybody," he said. "If we were, we would be politicians, wouldn't we?"