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Gujarat elections: Is Saurashtra region BJP’s weak link in PM Modi’s home state?

The region is dominated by Patels, who have been demanding reservation in government jobs and education in the run-up to the Gujarat elections. It sends 48 MLAs to the 182-member assembly.

assembly elections Updated: Nov 06, 2017 06:49 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Jetpur/Jasdan, Hindustan Times
Gujarat elections,Narendra Modi,Patidars
PAAS convener Hardik Patel during a road show in Bhavnagar. The Patel quota stir leader has been protesting against the BJP government and demanding reservation for his community.(PTI FILE)

In Gujarat elections, the Patel-dominated Saurashtra region appears to be the ruling BJP’s weak link in the state that will vote for a new assembly on December 9 and 14.

The influential Patidar community, which comprises farmers, diamond merchants and industrialists, is up in arms against the BJP over its demand for reservation in government jobs and education.

Patels account for 12% of Gujarat’s 60 million people and have traditionally supported the BJP. It will be a challenge for the Congress to convert their anger into votes.

But if it does, the Saurashtra region, which votes in the first phase and sends 48 legislators to the 182-member assembly, will see a tight contest between the two rivals.

A word of caution -- this is not the first time that the BJP finds itself in a corner in Saurashtra, which spans 11 districts.

In the 2012 assembly election, the BJP overcame a stiff challenge from its former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who broke away to form the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), to win 32 seats and eventually a fourth successive term.

The Congress ended up with 13 seats in Saurashtra, the GPP just two and the NCP one.

As of now, the Congress seems to have the first-mover advantage, given the response party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s rallies have got in Gujarat.

His frequent visits to the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister in 2012, and BJP chief Amit Shah are an indication that the Congress, out of power for 22 years, fancies its chances this time.

“Ridiculing Rahul Gandhi or the Gandhi family repeatedly won’t fetch you votes all the time. People have seen through this tactic that the BJP has used for 22 years,” said Kirit Patel, a real estate agent, at Janta Nagar Chowk in Jetpur, about 70km from Rajkot.

‘Want a change’

The Patels are broadly divided into two main sub-castes, Kadvas and Leuvas, and two smaller sub-castes, Chaudharys and Anjanas.

Though spread all over Gujarat, the Patidars have a big presence in Saurashtra, in western Gujarat, and in the north of the state and can influence the outcome in at least 60 constituencies.

They cite increased competition, unemployment, shrinking landholdings, lack of higher and professional education in support of their demand for reservation.

The quota demand has also catapulted Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (Paas) leader Hardik Patel to national prominence, emerging as a young hero willing to go to any extreme for the community.

At a pan shop near Janta Nagar Chowk, a group of villagers watched Gandhi on TV as he addressed a gathering at Valsad .

“He talks sense and is raising the right issues,” said Gautam, a Patel and the shop owner. “The BJP talks about bullet trains but doesn’t spell out how it will improve the existing rail network and roads. Vikas (development) is seen only on highways and not in villages,” said Vijaybhai, a sweeper with the civic body.

Vijaybhai was some of the people who refused to share their second name with HT.

Hotchand Kakwani, a Sindhi and a cotton factory owner, Ramesh Tulsibhai Shravan, a Brahmin, and Girish, a Rajput, all of whom were Modi fans till recently, listed note ban, goods and services tax, rising prices, unemployment and farmer distress as “reasons” enough to oust the BJP.

“Modi talks about Congress-mukt (Congress-free) Bharat but has been inducting all Congress discards into the BJP. Koi bhi corrupt vyakti jab BJP mei aata hai to uska shuddikaran hota hai (Does a corrupt person gets cleansed on joining BJP)?” said diamond factory worker Dharamsinh at Karampur in Jasdan, about 60km from Rajkot.

Farmers, too, are unhappy. The common complaint is not getting a good price for their crops for many seasons.

Saurashtra is a major cotton and groundnut growing area of Gujarat. The state government in September announced Rs 900 as the procurement price for per 20kg of groundnut. Last year, the minimum support price was Rs 844 per 20kg.

“But these are all election sops. Why didn’t the government announce these steps earlier? We have been suffering for years,” said Jilu Jakshibhai, a farmer in Jasdan’s Amrapara village.

The time for “parivartan (change)” had come, said Viram Jejriya, a farmer in Gundala village of Jasdan. “Twenty years is too long a period for a party to rule a state.”

Will Saurashtra be the bearer of “parivartan” Jejriya is talking about? We will have to wait for December 18, the counting day.

First Published: Nov 05, 2017 18:50 IST