Gujarat Elections, which way Surat will vote?

Gujarat Assembly Elections 2017

By Deepak Parvatiyar*

Surat: Last Sunday in Patel dominated Varachha area of Surat over a lakh strong crowd surged to the rally of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti leader Hardik Patel. Many had ‘Sardarvanshi’ printed on their T-shirts and many more sported the PAAS cap. They put on their mobile phone torchlights when he administered them the oath of not voting for the BJP. Such a show could impact election outcome in as many as five of the 16 assembly seats in Surat district– Varachha, Kamrej, Olpad, Kakodara and Karanj.

In 2012, the BJP had won 15 of the 16 assembly segments in Surat district. The only seat in the district where the Congress could win was the Schedule Tribe reserve seat of Mandvi from where Parbhubhai Vasava had defeated his nearest BJP rival Hemlataben Vasava by a margin of 24,394 votes. This time the Congress has fielded Anandbhai Chaudhari against the BJP’s Anand Chaudhary from the Mandvi (ST) seat.

Wary of anti incumbency and unrest in Patidar community, the party this time has dropped as many as nine of the 16 sitting MLAs from the district, including senior minister Nanubhai Vanani from Katargam from where he had won by a margin of 26.09% votes in 2012. The other seats in the Surat district where the BJP replaced the sitting MLAs are: Kamrej, where the party has fielded Vinubhai Dahyabhai Zalavadiya in place of  the Prafulbhai Pansheriya; Surat East (Arvindbhai Rana in place of sitting MLA Ranjitbhai Gillitwala); Surat North (Kantibhai Khallar in place of sitting MLA Ajay Choksi); Karanj (Praveenbhai Ghoghari in place of sitting MLA Janakbhai Kachchadia); Udhna (Vivek Patel in place of sitting MLA Narottambhai Patel); Katargam (Vinubhai Mordiya in place of sitting MLA Nanubhai Vanani); Surat West (Punesh Modi in place of sitting MLA Kishorebhai Ratilal Vankawala); and Choryasi (Anjanaben Patel in place of sitting MLA Rajendrabhai Patel).

Besides being a busy commercial centre, Surat was ranked as the 4th-fastest growing city in a study conducted by international think tank City Mayors Foundation in 2016. A city known for its diamond and textile industry which attracts thousands of migrant labourers, and also the Patel settlers from Saurashtra who are largely into diamond cutting and polishing business, Surat has become politically sensitive and emerged crucial in the scheme of the both the BJP as well as its opponents.

The BJP is conscious of the Patidar anger, which resulted in the party dropping as many as 22 seats in the Surat municipal elections in 2015 when the party’s tally had come down from 98 to 76 seats in the 116-member Surat Municipal Corporation. The Congress was the direct beneficiary, raising its tally from 14 to 36 seats.

Any further setback to the BJP here could well be linked with, not just the Patidar’s anger, but the BJP government’s economic policies. Much before the Goods and Service Taxes norms were relaxed, the Congress president-designate Rahul Gandhi traveled extensively in the city and met representatives from small and medium scale industrial units this election time in an attempt to rake up support for his criticism of demonetization and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which he had called “Gabbar Singh Tax”.  Besides, Rahul, former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, too has campaigned hard for the Congress in this prosperous city where the people are quite worried over trade related issues and the GST.

Desperate to win the case for the BJP, the party fielded two union Ministers, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan besides Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and actor and MP Paresh Rawal on a single day, on November 26, to hold corner meetings and public rallies in the city.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed it up with a public rally the day after.

It is not surprising that the BJP stalwarts are doing several rounds of Surat. Narendra Modi stayed here overnight on last Sunday too. None of the BJP bigwigs including the party president Amit Shah could skip Surat. Shah may not also forget chaos at one of his rallies in the city in September last year, where angry Patels had resorted to breaking the chairs and shouted pro-Hardik Patel and anti-Shah slogans.

Political muscle flexing therefore is hardly of any surprise here and both the Congress as well as the BJP grapple with rebellion by ticket hopefuls who could not make the list here.  Within hours of the Congress releasing its first list of candidates, Congress Corporators Dhansukh Rajput and Jyoti Sojitra, who was also head of the party’s Surat woman cell,  resigned along with state Congress secretary Feroz Malek. The BJP’s former municipal councilor in Surat, Bhimji Patel filed his nomination papers as Independent from Karanj assembly segment of the city. Other BJP rebels in the city included Ajay Chaudhary who filed nomination as Independent from Choryasi assembly segment. Following this he has been suspended by the party. Another BJP worker  Kumwarji Halpati  too filed nomination as Independent from two seats, Mandvi and Mangrol, in the district.

Given the intensity of the fight here, all eyes are on Surat. The question in everyone’s mind is that can the BJP retain its bastion this time again?

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