With its Rs 80,000 crore textile industry, Surat is among the country’s biggest manufacturing hubs of man-made fabric. Since last month, the markets have been abuzz, with politics.
For long, the division of labour among the looms, mills and markets has been clear – the owners are Gujaratis from Saurashtra and Surat, the traders largely Rajasthanis and Punjabis, the processing operations are mostly handled by Gujaratis and Rajasthanis, and at all levels, the workforce is from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Together, this workforce totals 18 lakh, or 20% of the city’s migrant numbers.
Around mid-January, a section of the members demanded fresh elections to the core body of traders, Federation of Surat Textile Traders’ Association (FOSTTA). Now six major textile markets, out of 165 that are part of FOSTTA, have supported the demand. The six, led by former FOSTTA president Tarachand Kasat, are believed to have the backing of BJP Gujarat president C R Paatil.
Sources said Kasat, who had fallen out with the BJP earlier, might be trying to get into Paatil’s good books with the Assembly elections ahead. It also consolidates the position of Paatil, a Lok Sabha MP from Navsari, in the influential textile industry.
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The backing of migrants gives Paatil an edge among his rivals in the Gujarat BJP unit. So much so that he was among the BJP leaders chosen to campaign for Narendra Modi in Varanasi during the Lok Sabha elections.
The support is even more crucial now as the Patidar agitation led by Hardik Patel has dented the BJP in the Saurashtra region. In 2015, the Congress had won 36 seats, from 14 earlier, in the Surat Municipal Corporation elections. In 2019, debutant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had won 27 seats, an outcome seen as swung largely by the Patidar vote. Paatil had reacted to the results, saying: “Bakru kadhta unth pethu (In our effort to remove the goat, the camel got inside).” The goat was apparently a reference to the Congress, and the camel to AAP.
With the migrant workers among the worst affected in the Covid pandemic, the BJP has been trying to woo them.
Among the Surat markets that have aligned with the Kasat faction is the Japan Market on Ring Road, known to be firm BJP supporter. Traders here, with roots in UP, brought out sample saris with pictures of Modi, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and the BJP symbol, to sell ahead of the UP elections.
The market association has sent a letter to FOSTTA saying it would not recognise it till fresh elections were held.
The other markets which have gone against FOSTTA are Good Luck Textile Market Association, Shree Mahalaxmi Market Association, Shree Saikrupa Market Association, New Lucky Textile Market Association and Sai Khati Textile Market.
Paatil has already won some goodwill in the Surat markets by mediating with the Centre to ensure that a GST-related demand of textile traders was met. Union Minister of State, Textiles and Railways, Darshana Jardosh is a Lok Sabha MP from Surat.
The Kasat faction has raised the point that four of FOSTTA members — president Manoj Agrawal, secretary Champalal Bothra, treasurer Rajesh Agrawal and spokesperson Rangnath Sharda — have been its office-bearers for seven years and control the body. It has also threatened to bring down the members if fresh elections are not called in seven days.
At an event held to felicitate him for his help over the GST demand, Paatil had also attacked FOSTTA, asking why there was “no election or audit of the association” .
FOSTTA president Manoj Agrawal said, “We are not against fresh elections. We are contacting the 700 registered voters and discussing it with them.”
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