Ghatlodiya begs to differ: A Gujarat election diary

Ghatlodiya begs to differ: A Gujarat election diary

By JOYEETA BASU | Ahmedabad, Sanand, ­Viramgam, Vadodara | 2 December, 2017
Modi matters to the students of Vadodara’s MS University, ‘because he did demonetisation’, and because ‘Modi is Modi, you know’.

“Hum to Modi-ke aashiq hai (we all are in love with Modi),” replies a trader of paints and hardware at a shop on the outskirts of Ghatlodiya in Ahmedabad city when asked who he is voting for. Unhappy with demonetisation and the subsequent loss of business, he is still not ready to abandon the Bharatiya Janata Party, because of Narendra Modi and because “there is no other alternative to protect Hindus”. Far away from the city, on way to the rural Viramgam constituency, Hardik Patel’s home turf, a farmer, Mukesh Patel says, “I am a farmer, a Patidar, and I will vote for the BJP.” He was categorical: “That is because Congress is a Muslim party.” At a time when the talk in Gujarat, especially in the media, is all about caste and how “angry” farmers and Patidars have moved away from BJP, the possible impact of religion and Modi on the electorate is, perhaps, being underestimated.

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At Ghatlodiya’s Patel Chowk, a Patidar hub in Ahmedabad, a group of older Patidar gentlemen sitting at a teashop, is dismissive of Hardik Patel. “He is not a man of principles, he is in it for name, fame and money,” is their collective response. “Patels are a rich community, we don’t need anamat (reservation).” “We are not beggars,” says the Congress supporter among them. The rest are all vocal Modi supporters: “We like Narendra Modi because he is honest, he is hard working and he has done a lot for Gujarat. This place has seen a lot of development.” They also cannot believe that the force that was used by the government to control the Patidar agitation two years ago, can be an election issue in 2017. Hardik is a star, with a huge following among the Patidar youths in particular—Narhari Patel, a retired patwari and “representative of the Patidar samaj” claims to this correspondent over phone, that “95% Patidars are with Hardik”. But Ghatlodiya begs to differ.

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In faraway Vadodara, Modi matters to the students of the city’s MS University. Yesha Makwana, a Commerce student and a first-time voter likes Modi “because he did demonetisation”. “And Modi is Modi, you know,” she smiles through her braces. Her friends Heta Parekh and Chaitali Prajapati nod in agreement. A group of boys nearby refuses to disclose their caste: “We are Gujaratis. We don’t believe in caste.” “Hardik is doing what he is doing, for money,” asserts another group of students. Even at the teashop near Viramgam, Mukesh Patel, the Patidar farmer has the same thing to say about Hardik, while others support him.

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In Viramgam taluka, around 60 odd kilometres from Ahmedabad, an older Patel gentleman who will not be named for reasons that will soon become obvious, abuses BJP for 15 minutes. He shows this correspondent on his smartphone two-year-old video clips of the violence meted out to Patidars by the police. The BJP candidate from Viramgam is Tejashree Patel, one of those Congress MLAs who defected to the BJP recently. The Patidar gentleman, a Congress supporter, is naturally furious with Tejashree Patel, who he knows quite well. But he is even more furious when this correspondent tells him that the buzz in Viramgam’s bazaar is that Congress is fielding a Thakor—an OBC and a traditional rival of the Patels—from the seat. As he is about to leave, he suddenly turns around and says he would vote for Tejashree Patel if the Congress fields anyone but a Patel. In another 10-15 minutes, news spreads like wildfire through Viramgam that Congress has fielded an “imported candidate”, an OBC, Lakha Badhwar. According to media reports, Badhwar was seeking a ticket from Vejalpur in Ahmedabad city, but was sent to Viramgam instead. With the filing of nominations about to close in a couple of hours, the road in front of the collectorate suddenly starts reverberating with slogans, as Congress’ local Thakor leader, who was expecting to get the ticket, rushes in with his supporters to file his nomination as an Independent. He has only one aim: to eat into the substantial Thakor vote in the area. Gujarat elections just might prove that caste can be a double-edged sword. As they say, it’s complicated.

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Viramgam taluka’s claim to fame is as Hardik Patel’s home. Alpesh Thakor, who recently joined the Congress, too belongs to this area. Dr Tejashree Patel, who won the seat the last time on a Congress ticket, says she is confident of a victory. She is a practising gynaecologist and has a loyal following among women. When asked about the anger against BJP among rural Patidars, and the fact that Congress did rather well in the panchayat elections, she says, “That was two years ago at the height of the Patidar agitation. That anger has subsided.” She points at groups of BJP workers working for her and says, “They are all Patidars. I am a Patidar.” She is confident that BJP is returning to power and claims that she shifted her political allegiance because being in Congress was not allowing her to work for Viramgam. She says Hardik’s training in politics was under her, right from the time he used to supply mineral water.

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There is considerable unhappiness over demonetisation among the smallest of traders, especially those who conduct their businesses from roadside shacks. These small stall owners, workers and labourers are still sulking and BJP may take a hit in this segment. At least one such small shack owner, a traditional BJP voter, tells this correspondent near Sanand that he will shift to Congress this time. However, another man, Ajji, a Nai (a barber) who belongs to a village near Sanand, looks blank when asked about Congress. “Everyone votes BHAJP (BJP) here,” he says in Hindi. Same is the response from the three Brahmin youths standing nearby at a bus stand near Sanand, where the Tata Nano factory is located.

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In Vadodara, BJP’s media centre at Sayajiganj is buzzing with activity and is quite a contrast to the forlorn city office of the Congress at Dandiyabazaar. But then as a Congress worker sitting under a tree nearby explains, “This is a BJP bastion and we have nothing much to do.” At the BJP media centre, when asked about the anti-incumbency against the party, the state general secretary of the BJP, Shabdsharan Brahmbhatt clarifies, “There is no anti incumbency against the party. If there is any anti incumbency, it’s against individual candidates.” “Gujarat never voted for caste, and this time too they will not vote for caste. We are confident of winning, but not over confident,” he adds.

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Seen outside BJP’s Vadodara office: a banner from “Jainam Suppliers”, proclaiming that election material of all parties is available with them. Below that declaration are the symbols of the BJP, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Congress, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and CPM. Well, it’s a case of being very democratic and equally business-minded, or as some will say, democratically business-minded. Although it is not known what the Trinamool, JMM, SP and CPM are doing there.

 

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