BJP banks on Modi to fight anger in Gujarat’s auto hub

The Sanand-Hansalpur belt has emerged as a major auto hub, competing with the Sriperumbudur-Oragadam belt in Tamil Nadu for government push and foreign investments.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2017 08:53 IST
Maulik Pathak
Maulik Pathak
Hindustan Times, Sanand/Hansalpur
BJP,Bharatiya Janata Party,Gujarat Election 2017
The plant for the Tata Nano car at Sanand in Gujarat.(Reuters File Photo)

Mahendrasinh Jhadav, a farmer in Khoraj village in Gujarat’s Sanand, says his plot of land right next to the national highway has transformed in the past decade — after auto major Tata Motors shifted its factory to the area in 2008 following violent protests in West Bengal’s Singur.

“Earlier this land where I am standing used to be barren. The Narmada water canals changed everything. Also, due to Narmada, people in Sanand and nearby areas now take crops thrice a year instead of once,” he said. The farmer said he sold 30 bighas of land for about Rs6 crore and bought another 55 bighas nearby. Jhadav has also purchased a flat in a posh locality of Ahmedabad and said he had benefited from the “Gujarat model of development”, where the government supported private investment. He added that many more in his village and the region had similarly prospered.

The area, the Sanand-Hansalpur belt, has emerged as a major auto hub, competing with the Sriperumbudur-Oragadam belt in Tamil Nadu for government push and foreign investments.

The 100-odd kilometre stretch hosts companies such as Ford India Pvt. Ltd, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India Pvt Ltd. Non-automobile companies like Uflex Ltd, Colgate Palmolive (India) Ltd, Nestlé India Ltd and Bosch Rexroth India Ltd too have set up their units here. The region is also set to be the country’s first electric and hybrid vehicles hub with Maruti Suzuki and JSW Group recently announcing investments in this space.

The workforce comprises about 30,000 — including direct and indirect employment — and the investment in industries, including auto and engineering units, is pegged at Rs20,000-Rs22,000 crore, said a government official on condition of anonymity.

The region is also often seen as a showcase of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development model, which is the foundation of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election campaign. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, has attacked this development narrative, alleging crony capitalism.

The BJP’s campaign is around the theme of ‘Hun chu Vikas. Hun chu Gujarat’ (I am development. I am Gujarat) . The Congress’ campaign —‘Congress aave che. Navsarjan aave che’ (Congress is coming. Change is coming ) — aims at finding cracks in the development model.

Of the three constituencies in this belt, Sanand and Viramgam were won by Congress in 2012. BJP candidate Rajnikant Patel won the Becharaji seat. But Congress holds none of the three seats currently after both its legislators defected to the BJP during the Rajya Sabha elections in August. The region is dominated by the Thakors, Patidars and Rajput communities and their aspirations are starkly different.

Jagdish Makhwan of the Rajput community runs a roadside refreshment joint and says his business grew 25% due to the newly developed highway but is angry with the BJP. He and other villagers say the BJP unfairly lodged cases against a former local village chief following a dispute over construction at a prime pasture land. Rajputs took out a big procession last week, forcing saffron party leaders to strike a compromise. Makhwan says the community will not vote for the BJP without a public apology.

The Patidar community appears to be in two minds about voting for its traditional choice, the BJP. Patidar quota protest leader Hardik Patel, who has tied up with the Congress and vowed to defeat the BJP and hails from a village just seven kilometers from Viramgam, has held several rallies in the region.

Twenty-eight-year-old Chirag Patel of Hansalpur village said he always voted for the BJP but this time he was rethinking his choice. “I meet a lot of people every day and one thing I can say is that there is a lot of opposition against the ruling party. Whether BJP manages to win or not, one thing is sure that turncoats will find it very difficult to win,” said Patel, a lawyer in Becharaji.

Sections of OBC community, especially the Thakors, have been galvanised by Alpesh Thakor, who joined Congress and had started his protests against the Patidar quota demand.

“I would like to vote for change this time around. There are a lot of illiterate farmers who sold off their land and have wasted their money in buying expensive cars,” said Bahadurbhai Gohil of Jhaap village near Sanand.

Gohil, who belongs to the OBC community, said Congress’ Karamsibhai Patel, who has switched over to the BJP, will find it difficult to win now if he is fielded. The Prime Minister is still very popular. Take for example Vithalapur, a once sleepy town in Viramgam district that is buzzing with activity after Suzuki Motor Gujarat (SMG) started its operations earlier this year.

“There has been development in this area and nobody can deny that. The BJP will get votes because of Modi,” said Hitubhai Zala who operates a private vehicle for the Suzuki factory.

First Published: Nov 23, 2017 22:28 IST