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Gujarat elections: How ‘anger’ faded, why Patidars didn’t ‘deliver’ for Congress

Although the Congress staged a “Gabbar Singh” rally to protest the tax, the traders decided to go by their business instinct and vote for a party that is seen to back industry.

Written by Leena Misra | Ahmedabad | Updated: December 19, 2017 3:43:44 pm
Surat Patidars went with BJP, GST and demonetisation notwithstanding. (Express Photo: Partha Paul)

For BJP, what does ending up under 100 seats for the first time since 1995 mean?

The party that has been winning elections to even local self government bodies in the name of Narendra Modi since 2002, will have to rethink its strategy. Most MLAs in the BJP owe their victories to Modi, and hence have limited personal resonance with voters. Which is why, at the peak of the Patidar agitation, they were driven away from their own constituencies, and voters recorded phone conversations with them and circulated them on social media. At least a section of BJP workers would have had their morale dented.

Also Read | Election results: One thing is for sure, the 2019 contest is now wide open

So where exactly did the BJP do badly?

The worst showing was in the region of Saurashtra and Kutch where, of the 54 seats, it won only 23. In 2012, of the six seats in Kutch, five were held by BJP and one by the Congress; of the 48 in Saurashtra, BJP had 30. This has now changed to 19 for the BJP and 28 for the Congress. This reversal is significant, as it indicates that the Kathiawadi Patels have backed the Congress. The verdict has a parallel in the 1985 election, when five of the six Kutch seats were won by the Congress, besides 43 of the 52 seats of Saurashtra. This was the election in which the Congress won 149 of the 182 seats in the Assembly, with Madhavsinh Solanki at the helm.

And what is the verdict on GST and demonetisation?

Surat, which bore the brunt of GST and demonetisation, did not punish the BJP. Instead, the BJP won all 12 urban seats in Surat district — apparently abandoning the sentiment against the tax that had seen textile traders of Surat leading a 22-day protest, shutting down nearly 60,000 units. As for the diamond industry, which, too, was impacted by GST, it is not only owned by natives of Saurashtra — and it also employs labour from the districts of Amreli, Bhavnagar, Rajkot and Junagadh. The textile units, on the other hand, are run by migrants largely from Rajasthan, and employ workforce from Bihar, Rajasthan, Odisha and UP, states where the BJP has captured the imagination of the electorate.

But what happened to all the anger?

Although the Congress staged a “Gabbar Singh” rally to protest the tax, the traders decided to go by their business instinct and vote for a party that is seen to back industry. Diamond workers would also have been influenced by their owners, who are loyal to Modi. One of them, Lalji Patel of Dharmanand Diamonds, famously bought Modi’s monogrammed suit at an auction in 2015.

Overall, the Congress failed to appeal to the urban voter, in spite of a well-thought out manifesto. Voters that this paper talked to over the last two months were consistent in their view that they wanted to “teach a lesson to BJP” (paath bhanavo chhe), but they did not necessarily say they would vote for the Congress, which has no organisation or local leadership to speak of. The drop in voter turnouts compared to 2012, especially in the Patidar areas of Surat, could be an indicator of this lack of enthusiasm. The turnout in Kamrej dropped by around 7%, in Varachha by 6%, in Katargam by 4%, in Karanj by 8%.

BJP president Amit Shah after the party’s victories in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh on Monday. (Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)

What about the big Patidar factor?

They voted differently in different areas. The largely agrarian districts of Amreli and Morbi gave all their eight seats to the Congress. In Dhoraji of Rajkot district, Lalit Vasoya, a former PAAS member, won on a Congress ticket. Even the former seat of Keshubhai Patel, Visavadar in Junagadh, was wrested by the Congress. In Unjha, the constituency with the largest number of Patels in Mehsana district, and home to Asia’s largest cumin market, the Congress won. This was clearly a verdict on the agrarian policies of the government, coupled with the appeal of Hardik Patel.

In contrast, the Patels in the highest concentration seats of Surat Varachha Road, Katargam and Kamrej stayed with the BJP, despite having favoured the Congress in the local body elections of 2015, held soon after the quota agitation. The city that runs on the labour intensive industry was wary of possible violence that could lead to an industry shutdown.

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