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Gujarat election: BJP, Congress slug it out to woo Surat traders

Winning over businessmen, who are mostly Patidars, is key for any party to dominate Gujarat’s Saurashtra region.

india Updated: Nov 08, 2017 15:55 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
Gujarat assembly elections 2017,Gujarat election news,Gujarat polls
The BJP is battling a buoyant Congress to retain control of Gujarat and has pulled out all stops to hold onto the support of several communities, especially businessmen and Patidars. (HT file photo)

Gujarat’s business hub of Surat has turned into a political battleground as top leaders jostle with each other to win over the city’s traders, whose support can be decisive in the politically crucial Saurashtra region.

First off the mark is Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah who is meeting with booth-level party workers and then hosting a dinner for city traders on Tuesday night to discuss the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

On Wednesday – which is also the one-year anniversary of the government’s shock recall of high-value banknotes – Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi will spend the day with diamond and textile manufacturers and traders to “to understand the problems” caused by demonetisation and GST implementation, a senior party leader told Hindustan Times. In the evening, Gandhi will lead a candle-light vigil against demonetisation.

In Delhi on the same day, Union textile minister Smriti Irani will meet a delegation from the Southern Gujarat Chamber of Commerce. The minister had called the traders for a meeting after Gandhi announced his plans to spend a day in Surat to know their “mann ki baat”.

The BJP is battling a buoyant Congress to retain control of Gujarat and has pulled out all stops to retain the support of several communities, especially businessmen and Patidars.

Winning over businessmen in Surat – who mostly come from the Patidar community – is key for any party to dominate the Saura- shtra region, which comprises 11 districts and sends 48 legislators to the 182-member state assemb- ly. The Patidars in the city mig- rated from drought-prone Saur- ashtra but maintain strong ties to their ancestral villages by sending back money for agriculture.

The Congress, which is looking to snatch power from the BJP after 22 years, has focused on brewing discontent among the Patidar community, who comprise 12% of the state’s six crore population, over a demand for quotas in jobs and education.

The opposition party has also repeatedly attacked the prime minister over demonetisation and implementation glitches in GST – with Gandhi dubbing it ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ at a recent rally. The Congress is also buoyed by Patidar leader Hardik Patel inching closer to the party ahead of polls scheduled for December 9 and 14.

But winning over the Surat traders might not be easy for the opposition party. The diamond and textile traders are from the Leuva sub-caste while Hardik is a leader of the Kadva sub-caste. The two communities have frosty relations. The Leuvas dominate businesses and are spread evenly among various districts of Saurashtra and Gujarat. The Kadvas are numerically less significant, poorer, mostly farmers and are confined to north Gujarat.

The trade forums in the city also appeared split over the high-profile visits. The SGCC had decided to meet all three leaders but both the Federation of Textile Associations and Surat Diamond Association said they were likely to give the meeting with Gandhi a miss. “A delegation has left for Delhi to meet minister Irani on November 8 before GST council November 9 and 10 meet. We would also meet Shah and Gandhi,’’ said SM Shah, the president of SGCC.

Manoj Agrawal, the president of the Federation of Textile Associations, said the body had decided to stay away from meeting Gandhi but that individual traders were free to meet the 47-year-old leader.

The Surat Diamond Association(SDA) maintained a similar stand. “The association has been in talks with the government over issues related to the GST. The government so far has given a positive response. The association is not going to meet Gandhi. But traders are free to do so,’’ said Shantibhai Dhanani, secretary of the association.

First Published: Nov 07, 2017 23:36 IST