For Darshini Kothiya, state BJP secretary, reaching out to people as part of the party’s ongoing booth-level vistarak programme is a tough task. The party has assigned her booth number 252 of Puna north ward number 15 in Kamrej Assembly constituency — an area dominated by Patidars who are angry with the BJP government for not meeting their demand of reservation in government jobs under the OBC category.
The Patidars’ disenchantment with the BJP government can be gauged from the results of Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) election that was held after the 2015 quota agitation led by the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS). Ward number 15, where a majority of residents are Patidars, beside OBCs and tribals, made history by electing all the corporators from the Congress for the first time.
Despite being a Patidar and a local resident, 42-year-old Kothiya is not finding people eager to hear her. “The Patidar agitation had an impact in this ward, so I have to act tactfully. There were some families in my ward who did not want to listen to me, so I did not force them. There were some people who were not in a good mood (to listen to me) as they do not like the BJP. There were, however, some people who like the BJP and they supported us,” said Kothiya after returning home from her door-to-door campaign where she talks about the BJP government’s policies and schemes.
Knowing clearly that people won’t be receptive to her visit, she tactfully chooses to campaign between 11 am to 1 pm when most of the Patidar men have left for work, a majority of them in diamond factories. On Monday evening, she posted pictures of her visiting the home of one Ukabhai Bariya, a tribal who lives with his son’s family in a modest home.
“We have collected information of the voters in our areas and also those who had supported us,” said Kothiya who has also formed a Whatsapp group of 50 members to share the details as directed by the party. “We have come to know that BJP leaders are doing door-to-door meeting with people and are collecting their details. We are also waiting for Darshini Kothiya to come here. We are sure that not a single person will share their details with her from our society,” said Geetaben Patel, a homemaker and resident of Godavri society in Punagam area of Varachha.
A local pan shop owner, Laljibhai Pothiya, said that BJP leaders are finding tough to campaign in the area for the last one and half years. “It has become difficult for BJP leaders to roam freely in the area and organise public meetings. Earlier, BJP leaders use to hold several public meetings, but things changed after the Patidar agitation. Locals are now against the BJP. Darshiniben is also a Patidar and everybody knows her. Locals may not have any objections of her going to their homes, but if a public meeting is organised, then it would be a problem,” he said.
Local Congress corporator Nilesh Kumbhani pointed out that Kothiya has been avoiding public meetings. “She is doing door-to-door meetings. We challenge the BJP to hold a public meeting and that too in the evening when men will be at home. They will see the outcome,” he said. Soures in the BJP said that party leaders have been strictly told to exercise restraint while campaigning in the Patidar-dominated areas.
Despite its claims of making inroads in the Muslim community, the BJP cadres are finding it difficult to campaign in areas dominated by Muslims as part of its ongoing booth-level vistarak programme. Their campaign in these areas is limited to distributing handbills.
While campaigning in Dariapur Assembly constituency, former MLA Bharat Barot called the exercise futile. “There is no basic set-up of the BJP in Muslim areas of Dariapur constituency. There are no booth workers to move around with you here… We have no basic structure of booth committee in Muslim localities in this area. So, where do we go to train workers,” asked Barot, who spent most of the time in Shahibaug area’s Hindu pockets. He has been given charge of booths in Dariapur and Kalupur by the party as part of the nine-day campaign. Out of the 1.80 lakh voters in Dariapur constituency, 45 per cent are Muslim. “I have many Muslim friends but they are wary of openly coming out in support of the BJP… People are opening up no, but still a lot more has to be done to bring Muslims here in BJP fold,” he added.
However, in Jamalpur-Khadia — another Muslim-dominated constituency with 96,000 people from the community — the scene was quite different. BJP MLA Bhushan Bhatt is popular among Muslim voters. “I move around freely in all areas of Jamalpur-Khadia constituency and they have no problems here… I started meeting people on Monday and will wrap up the programme in coming days. We go from door to door, put stickers on their gates or vehicles and explain the schemes of the BJP government to them,” Bhatt said. “In the Muslim-dominated areas of Jamalpur and Behrampura, people come forward to meet us and listen to us with interest,” he added.
As for Maktampura ward, Gujarat State Waqf Board chairman A I Saiyed said he was not aware of the things that are going on. “No one has approached me to do any work in the vistarak project, so far. I hope they may give me some responsibility in coming time,” Saiyed said. “There is no basic BJP network in Maktampura which has 80,000 Muslims,” the BJP councillor of a neighbouring ward said.