Caste, development separate poll regions voting in phase II

Rutam Vora Ahmedabad | Updated on January 09, 2018

BJP faces the Patidar revolt in North Gujarat, but development may see it sweep central districts

In July 2015, North Gujarat became the epicentre of a State-wide anti-government agitation led by the Patidar community, which raised issues of unemployment, farm distress, low agri prices, costly education and poor healthcare.

It was from Mehsana that Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel began his State-wide rallies from the district. By 2017, the Patidar wave had turned into a mass movement, with people from cross-sections of the unreserved communities attending Hardik’s rallies.

Predominantly dependent on farming and milk production, the profitability of the region’s economic activities has largely rested on climate and market prices. Potato, cotton, groundnut, pulses and castor have been among the poor performers on the price charts for the past 3-5 years. This, along with the lack of large industrial activity, has caused discontent among job-seeking youth.

The ruling BJP can find some solace in the robust milk co-operatives and the mineral businesses that thrive in the region. Also, carmaker Maruti Suzuki’s factory at Hansalpur near Mehsana has emerged as the development push for the region, which will see a close contest, with the BJP trying to raise its tally from the current 15, of a total of 32 seats in the six districts.

“There will be a close contest because people will vote not just on the basis of the caste factor but also will consider the rescue and redevelopment work of the government after the floods that hit the region this monsoon season. If there will be some dent due to the Patidar wave, there will be some gain due to government’s swift action after the floods. We see an increase in our existing tally,” said a BJP functionary from Banaskantha.

Notably, top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, former CM Anandiben Patel and party President Amit Shah have their paternal roots in North Gujarat.

Political observers say the government’s work after the devastating floods that left over 200 dead during the monsoons, and the development pitch over caste factor during Modi’s campaigning will neutralise the Patidar anger and will turn it positive for the party.

The Congress, on the other hand, has mounted efforts to increase its existing lead in the region by balancing the caste factor. The party’s support to Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, the independent candidate from Vadgam, is seen as a political strategy to consolidate votes from the community, and a ticket to OBC leader Alpesh Thakor is also posing a challenge to BJP.

In Central Gujarat, however, the BJP has an edge due to high urbanisation. Of the 61 seats here, nearly 30 come under the influence of Ahmedabad and Vadodara. Unlike rural voters, who are troubled by farm-related issues, urban voters have had a taste of better public infrastructure including transport, healthcare and riverfront and lakefront development. A BJP insider showed the confidence of sweeping the urban seats after the Prime Ministers’ seaplane ride from the Sabarmati river-front Tuesday.

A tough fight is on in the constituencies of Panchmahal and Kheda where the BJP has allotted tickets to Congress turncoats, CK Raulji from Godhra and cooperative heavyweight Ramsinh Parmar from Thasra, respectively.

With relatively better irrigation, and the crop variety further diversified by a strong milk cooperative model, the Patidar reservation factor has failed to penetrate into Central Gujarat. Also, the region has been relatively untouched by anti-incumbency as compared to North Gujarat.

“There is no Patidar factor in Vadodara district or even in the areas around the district. There are sufficient employment opportunities in the region. The youth in this region has been unaffected by the reservation movement,” said Rajendra Trivedi, MLA from Raopura constituency in Vadodara city and minister in the Vijay Rupani government.

What is to be seen on Thursday, when the two regions vote, will be whether the BJP manages to maintain its voter-base or the Congress encroaches into the development stronghold of urban pockets.

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Published on December 13, 2017
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