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Advantage Modi in south Gujarat
Krishnakumar in Mumbai | December 10, 2007 19:02 IST
The two Gujarat regions that go to polls on Tuesday will see the same reasons that will force the issue, but differ in how they work.
In Saurashtra, development is not an issue at all and the rebels are trying to play the caste card to oust Modi.
In south Gujarat too, the caste factor is very important. But here the Patels are all for Modi. The rebels are not much of a force to reckon with. And development matters a lot in the south, a region slightly better off than the Saurashtra region.
"Here the rebels do not have much of a say. The region has a lot of industries and the respective lobbies are what will do the trick. And then there is the tribal population, who have been the traditional vote bank of the Congress, but voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2002 elections. They are seen to be unhappy with the BJP government and may return to the Congress fold this year. They will be the only significant gain for the Congress this year," Surat-based independent journalist Vikram Vakil said.
A senior and very powerful Congress leader, who did not want to be named, said the Congress is very much banking on the rebels to swing it for them in the last minute.
"Though our situation in south Gujarat is not as strong as the Saurashtra region, we are hoping to gain some ground on the strength of the rebels," he said.
Why are the rebels not as strong here?
"Yeh rebel log gadhe hain. Unko paisa nahi mila isiliye aisa kar rahen hain," (These rebels are donkeys. They don't get money, that's why they do this) said 25-year-old Amar Patel of the Patidar dominated Bardoli village.
"Modi has done a lot of good for the region and even a neutral person will acknowledge it. So when a region that is a benefiting from a rule sees these so-called rebels go against the party, the people are fed up. And it is to Modi's advantage that it has played out as a Modi vs the rest kind of campaign," he said.
The Patels in the region see the rebels as a rich clique that is unhappy because it did not get a chance to make money during the Modi regime.
This feeling is furthered by an incident that happened with the diamond lobby. Like all powerful industries, the diamond lobby in and around Surat had a bought a lot of land from the poor and the farmers over a period.
"The government recently took away this land for future development work. That is the only reason a few in the diamond industry are unhappy with Modi. Otherwise there has been no anti-Modi feeling among the public," Sanjay Shah, a senior political analyst with the Dhainik Bhaskar group said.
Dhiru Gajera, a powerful diamond merchant, a two-time legislator and a BJP rebel, who is contesting in Surat (north) on a Congress ticket is seen to be at the forefront of the anti-Modi campaign.
Gajera's group Laxmi Daimonds turns around close to Rs 2,000 crore a year. He is supposed to have thrown all his political and financial might behind the rebel body Sardar Patel Utkarsh Samiti in a bid to bring down the Modi government.
"It is true that the BJP government's policies in the past five years have hit the diamond industry very badly. But other sections of the society have also been hit," Gajera said.
The BJP's candidate is also a diamond merchant and former president of the diamond merchants' association in Surat, Nanu Vanani.
In a constituency where it is said every house has at least one person in the diamond industry in some capacity or the other, the Congress is hoping the rebel will prevail.
And all indications are that even if the rebels fail in other regions, Gajera can't lose his constituency.
In Surat's other constituencies too, it is a battle of industries. In Chauriasi constituency, two bigwigs from the construction industry will battle it out.
Narotam Patel, the water supplies minister in the Modi government will defend his turf against Janak Dhanani of the Congress. This was also the worst-hit region in 2006's floods. By virtue of the decent post floods rehabilitation work, observers say Patel has an edge.
In Surat (east) the BJP's Ranjit Gilitwala, who is the chairman of the corporation standing committee, will face off with Praveen Changawala of the Congress.
It is said that two factors will work against the Congress here. Both are from the zari industry. One is the local development work carried out in Surat by the ruling BJP in the corporation that will aid Gilitwala and the other is that the Congress failing to please the Muslims in the constituency where they are dominant.
Though the Muslims won't ever vote for the BJP, an independent candidate Khan Pathan might split the Congress votes.
In Surat (west) the Gujarat state BJP vice president Kishore Wakawala will go against the Congress candidate Ashok Shah, a former president of the chamber of commerce.
Both are from the textile industry. Here too the BJP candidate has the edge.
The same trend extends across the south Gujarat region, with the BJP on a high thanks to the Patels who are largely in support of Modi, unlike the Saurashtra region, and thanks to his ambitious rural electricity project, the Jyotigram project which sought to increase the electricity supply to the farmers and the rural poor.
The only plus the Congress is likely to take from this region is its traditional tribal votebank.