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Friday, July 20, 2018

Gujarat election: In seat of milk & butter, election discourse is still all about Narendra Modi

The insulated truck, which collects the milk every morning and evening, is at the centre of life for villagers of Navli, where at least 350 families supply milk to the cooperative, linked to Amul. Anand votes on December 14

Written by Liz Mathew | Anand | Updated: November 22, 2017 6:06:05 am
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It is 1 pm and the milk tanker has just picked up raw milk from villagers at the collection centre in Navli village, on the outskirts of Anand. The insulated truck, which collects the milk every morning and evening, is at the centre of life for villagers of Navli, where at least 350 families supply milk to the cooperative, linked to Amul. Villagers such as Jayantibhai Sanabhai Patel prefer not to link Amul, or the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, to the Gujarat elections. Anand votes on December 14. Patel agreed, however, that Amul chairman Ramsinh Parmar’s exit from the Congress — he is now the BJP candidate for Anand — has “dragged” the dairy giant into political/election conversations.

“Parmar may have changed camps because he saw more personal benefits in the BJP. But we are happy that it would ultimately be good for Amul and all of us,” Patel said. Parmar agreed. “Amul is of the farmers and works for their overall development, irrespective of who is in leadership. Still, the ruling party’s cooperation and support will make it more beneficial for farmers,” he said.

Most villagers insist Amul functions beyond political lines, but argue that BJP governments have been good for it. In the seven years from 2009-10 to 2016-17, the GCMMF turnover jumped more than 3 times, from Rs 8,000 crore to Rs 27,000 crore.

“During his time as chief minister, [Narendra] Modiji initiated a number of schemes for milk cooperative societies. Today, we get subsidy on a range of things we buy, from cows to chaff-cutting machines,” said Harshan Patel, who owns 12 buffaloes. This is one region where many Patels speak against Hardik Patel’s quota agitation, a sign of the divide between Patel sub-castes Kadava and Leuva. “They took money from the Congress to create all this drama. There is no question of Patels getting any quota, because the Supreme Court has set a limit,” said Ashokbhai Patel. “He [Hardik] is making a fool of the public.”

For many of these Patels, the leader they look up to is Narendra Modi; they just refuse to believe he has moved out of Gujarat. “We came to know about central grants [because of] Modiji. Look at the roads and the facilities we have,” said Jayantibhai Patel, pointing to the clean marketplace, fully electrified. “Look how Modiji taught a lesson to the Chinese in Doklam — they had to withdraw because of his strong stance. Even Donald Trump is his friend. He is taking India to a high,” said Rohitbhai, another farmer. “If Modi rules for 25 years, Americans will have to beg for Indian visa.”

Such confidence was absent in areas around the district headquarters, although shopkeepers said they have been Modi’s fans when he was chief minister. “Modiji does a lot for the country. But the note ban was a wrong decision. Because of this, even a good step like GST has made it so tough for us,” said Dineshbhai Solanki. Most businessmen in Ahmedabad, too, were upset about demonetisation, he said. So would the anger turn them against the BJP? “No,” said Solanki. “They might not vote, but will not vote against the BJP,” he said.

Vishal, an automobile businessman in Ahmedabad, said Gujaratis have no feasible alternative to the BJP. “The Congress is making a noise, but still has a lot to come up with in order to pitch itself as an alternative,” Vishal said.

In the Congress, Amit Chawda, MLA from Anklav, claims there is an undercurrent against the BJP. “Modi has kept the [BJP] balloon afloat for long, but it’s time for people to know the realities of Gujarat,” he said. He claimed that the youth, who have never seen any other government than the BJP, are tired of the BJP because of unemployment and a “collapsed” education system — lack of jobs — while farmers have “given up” on the government as they do not get adequate electricity.

Chawda said the Opposition’s biggest gain is the absence of communal polarisation in the current elections. “Caste has come above religious lines. The BJP in the past could influence Hindus irrespective of caste, but not this time.” For example, Anand, formerly a Congress bastion, has now been captured by the BJP “with its communal polarisation”, Chawda said. Of the 2.18 lakh voters in Anand, an estimated one-third are Thakors and one-fifth Patels, with Leuva Patels outnumbering Kadava Patels 3 to 1.

Jigar Vaghela, a Congress worker, said that before the BJP brought Modi to Gujarat from Delhi in 2002, the Congress had won most of the rural local body elections. “If the riots had not taken place, the Congress would have won Gujarat then,” Vaghela said. It is similar this time, he said; the Congress has won 24 of 33 zilla parishads. In 2012, 56 of the Congress’s 60 seats were rural ones.

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