A journalist friend and I travelled from Ahmedabad to Rajkot via Sanand, Viramgam, Dhrangadhra, Halvad and Morbi, stopping at wayside tea stalls to chat with people, mostly youth, farmers, artisans. We returned to Ahmedabad via Chotila, Limdi, Bavla and Changodar.
Everyone we chatted with said they want to kick out the BJP government.
A carpenter, who walks with the help of crutches, insisted we visit a housing colony in which he too had been allotted an apartment by former chief minister Anandiben Patel seven years ago when she was the revenue and roads and building minister. He had paid Rs 1250 as down payment after which has not heard anything from the government.
The housing colony, barely two km from the centre of the town Dhrangadhra, has been lying vacant since its inauguration by Anandiben on 26 January, 2010. The colony has 700 apartments, none of them occupied. Thick wild shrubs have sprung up in the campus, several saplings have grown and cracked up the walls. Even the plaque bearing the names of Anandiben and another minister I K Jadeja has been shrouded by wild, thick growth of shrubs.
“What if Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes and promises you the possession of the house?” we asked. “He may come and promise and go away but nothing will happen”, said the physically challenged carpenter who works in a furniture workshop which has lost business after the double whammy of demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST).
“I had voted for the BJP in 2012 assembly elections only because the charismatic personality of Modi Saheb gave us hope of all-round, all-inclusive development. Instead, we got rampant corruption and joblessness. Policemen visit my tea shop regularly to eat snacks and drink tea – all gratis,” said a tea vendor. He is a Rabari, a pastoral community, whose main occupation is raising cows and buffaloes.
Surendranagar is known for cotton cultivation. Seeing a small gathering crowding a small cart at the entrance of a village of Halvad taluka, we stop. The village has a population of around 5,000. The sarpanch (the elected village head) is a BJP supporter.
Noticing two strangers alighting from a car, the villagers gathered around the cart, give us an inquiring look. “We are journalists from Delhi and Ahmedabad. Some in the crowd find the face of Delhi journalist familiar as he is often seen on TV debates. The cart belonged to a vendor of bed-sheets who moves from village to village.
Our arrival disrupts his sales shouts.
“Never have we seen such poverty. The marriage season is approaching and we have no money. Our stock of cotton is lying unsold. To get the minimum support price Rs 804 to 854 per 20 kg from the government we have to wait in a long queue. There are already over 2200 farmers in queue from our village. The line inches forward by only 25 farmers every day. At this rate, our turn will come after three months. So, we have no option but to sell to private traders at Rs 700 per kg,” a farmer said.
The BJP sarpanch, who had arrived on the scene, scooted on his bike.
From Morbi, the hub of ceramic industry, all the owners of small, medium and large manufacturing units had gone to Gandhinagar, the state capital, to participate in a three-day exposition. A Chinese, attired in business suit, was leaving the corporate office of a ceramic wall tiles manufacturing plant as we reached there.
The Rs 5,000 crore ceramic industry of Morbi had grounded to halt for a month following 28 per cent GST. It was only after the Gujarat assembly elections dates were announced that the GST rate was slashed down to 18 per cent.
“Who can tell if the government hikes the GST rates again after the Gujarat elections are over? The ‘Moody’ government can revise upwards the GST whatever be the outcome of the elections. Win or lose, the BJP government at the centre can increase the GST rates only to reduce them before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls,” said an executive officer of a large ceramic unit.
As many as 99 per cent of ceramic units in Morbi are owned by the Patidars who have invested from Rs 50 lakh to Rs 20 crore each to set up the manufacturing plants. The workers in these units are mostly migrants from Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and other states. Only the administrative staff are locals.
We met two local Gujarati young men at a tea stall on the outskirts of Morbi town. Both were from non-Patidar castes. “Morbi district, besides the ceramic industry, is known for cultivation of groundnut. Farm land owners are mostly Patidars who have put a ban on BJP workers’ entry in their villages,” informed one of the young man.
There was a heavy earth mover machine parked there whose driver was a Patel youth from Amreli district. His sister was married in a village of Morbi district. “This time we are going to vote out the BJP government,” he said.
During our pre-poll survey tour, we did not come across a single person who supported the BJP. In the last assembly elections held in 2012, BJP supporters would pounce on you if you dared criticized the then chief minister Narendra Modi. One thing perplexed us most. Though people were disenchanted with the BJP and said they would vote against it this time, they all said “But, the BJP will form the government come what may, by hook or crook.”