Key to Gujarat

As the state votes in its second phase tomorrow, The Sunday Express looks at five factors—apart from Narendra Modi—that could play a role in these polls.

1) Patel rebellion



Nikava, 32 kilometres from Rajkot city, is one of the Patel-dominated villages in these parts. The Congress could never make inroads in Kalawad taluka, which covers this village, says former sarpanch Keshavji Boghara. Of the 4,800 people in this village, 33 per cent are Leuva Patels and 30 per cent Muslims. Boghara, who has roots in the RSS, says, "Our village is the epicentre of the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) because many of its workers are from here".

The rebellion against chief minister Narendra Modi's 'tanashahi' (dictatorship), led by Keshubhai Patel, which culminated in the formation of the GPP, is largely seen as Patel anger at being "denied a greater share of the power pie". Traditionally landowners, Patels, or Patidars, constitute 14 per cent of the votes in Gujarat, of which the Leuva Patels, the sub-sect to which Keshubhai belongs, make up over 30 lakh and Kadva Patels, the sub-sect to which Anandi Patel belongs, over 22 lakh.

Rajkot-based businessman Naresh Patel has been trying to organise the Leuva Patels under the Khodaldham Trust, a movement to build a temple to their deity, Khodiyaar maa, at Kagwad village in Rajkot, which Naresh describes as "Saurashtra's centre".

Ever since the Congress alienated them in the 80s by their KHAM (Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim) mobilisation to win elections, the Patels have turned to the BJP and the BJP has nurtured this constituency.

Rudabhai Menpara, a former taluka panchayat member in Nikava, is a Congressman who contested and lost the Assembly elections in 2002. A Leuva Patel farmer, who owns 18 bighas, Menpara switched from the BJP to the Congress 30 years ago because he was "against communalism". Now, he says, he will "watch how the GPP performs and then I may join it".

Like in most villages in this area, here too there is anger for the sitting MLA, BJP's state unit president Ranchhod Faldu, who is now the candidate from Jamnagar Rural seat after Kalawad was reserved post-delimitation. The BJP candidate this election, Meghji Chavda, is likely to bear the brunt of anger against Faldu. Says Boghara, "Bas batavi devu chhe" (we just want to show our anger to the BJP).

Nikava has an NRI-funded hospital, temples and a mosque, and river Oond flowing by it. But under its quiet waters, there is a revolution brewing.

2)Muslim marginalisation

Satish Jha


Except a poster on the wall of Khatun Sheikh's house, asking to vote for Congress candidate Shailesh Parmar, there is hardly any sign in the whole of Citizennagar of the poll campaign. "We have been voting for the Congress and will keep doing it even if they do nothing for us. No matter what promises Modi holds out to Muslims, my stand will never change," Sheikh says.

Residents of Citizennagar are exiles in their own city. Sheikh's house is one of the 116 in Citizennagar, a rehabilitation colony set up after the post-Godhra riots in 2002. She fled her ancestral house in Naroda-Patia in Ahmedabad city where 97 people were killed, and took refuge here.

"Nobody has come to meet us so far even for campaigning. Last time (2007), I had helped a Hindu woman, whose name I don't remember, to get maximum votes from this locality. She never turned up again. We voted for the Congress but they didn't do anything for us. It was the BJP who laid roads recently, still, we will not vote for the party. We have been dumped here in this hell because of them," says an agitated Reshma Bano Saiyed, originally from Patia.

Citizennagar is hidden in a mountain of garbage at a dump yard on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. The refugees have been living amid stinking waste for the past 10 years. It falls in Danilimda constituency where the majority of population are Dalits. Both the BJP and Congress have fielded Dalits leaders, Girish Parmar and Shailesh Parmar, respectively.

Though the residents here are in no mood to 'forgive' the BJP, Muslims living in the adjacent areas are divided on the subject. "Ten years ago, the situation was worse. Our men used to get killed in clashes before 2002. But we have moved on and thanks to Modi, no such clashes have happened in all these years. Congress never gave electricity connections or even BPL cards, but Modi did," says Haneefa Sheikh, a resident of Gomtipur in Ahmedabad city, who sells waste paper for recycling in Citizennagar. She has been working here even before Citizennagar was set up.

Rizwana Sheikh, a commerce graduate who lives with her husband at Mubaraknagar, adjacent to Citizennagar, says Muslims have changed and benefited from the development under the leadership of Modi.

The residents of Citizennagar and Mubaraknagar together frame a bigger picture of Muslim voters in Gujarat, who constitute a little less than 10 per cent of the state's total voters—3.78 crore. This election, despite Modi's much-hyped fasts under 'Sadbhavna Mission' which was said to be an attempt to woo Muslims, the BJP didn't give a single ticket to Muslim candidates while there are seven contesting the election from the Congress.

"The fact that Muslims are crucial voters has been completely bypassed by the political parties. No one likes us. Congress should have given at least 17-18 seats given the number of the Muslim voters. Keshubhai Patel (Gujarat Parivartan Party) also didn't take a chance. The fact is that Gujarat has never elected a Muslim MP since 1989 after Ahmed Patel (Sonia Gandhi's political adviser)," says JS Bandukwala, a retired professor based in Vadodara.

3) The coastal wave



This was the place from where the BJP chartered its rise to power in the state but there's little to show for it. It was from Somnath that LK Advani began his rath yatra in 1990, a journey that ended in the BJP coming to power both in Gandhinagar and Delhi.

Ever since its first victory in Gujarat in 1995, the BJP has not looked back. But voters of this town on the Arabian Sea coast feel the party is not looking their way either.

All around there are pot-holed roads and open gutters. The infrastructure is hardly better in other areas of the region, despite the launch of the ambitious Rs 11,000-crore Saagarkhedu Yojana, which aimed to build roads, hospitals, and sewage lines in the coastal belt.

Modi has marketed the coastal belt to industry, with major projects like Adani Port, APG and Tata Power plants coming up in Kutch. But both the GPP and Congress have made industrialisation a major poll issue after Nirma's proposed cement plant in Mahuva was scrapped due to environmental concerns. The plant was fiercely opposed by Dr Kalsaria, the local rebel BJP MLA, whose new party, Sadbhavna Manch, has emerged as a major challenge in five coastal seats in Amreli and Bhavnagar districts.

Another challenge for the BJP can come from fishermen who are spread across 3,000 villages from Kutch to Valsad. They are upset that their demands for diesel subsidies and modern and improved ports have not been met yet, even though Modi had announced that they will be covered in the second phase of his Sagarkhedu Yojana. But as Jiva Koli, a fisherman in Somnath, says, "It is too late, too little''.

Now that the voters have many options—Gujarat Parivartan Party led by Keshubhai Patel, Sadbhavna Manch of BJP rebel Dr Kanu Kalsaria and several independents—the BJP has a daunting task ahead to save not only Somnath, but some 15 constituencies on the 1,600-km coastal belt. Sitting BJP candidate Rajshi Jotava is locked in a three-way fight against former MLA Jasa Barad of the Congress, Balu Vaja of the GPP and BJP rebels Ravi Gohil and Jagmal Vala, both contesting as independents.

Change in Somnath has been limited to the temple site. The Somanth Trust, which has as trustees Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Gujarat Parivartan Party president Keshubhai Patel, has maintained the temple well. But the cleanliness ends where the temple ends.

4)Tribal belt



Dediapada falls in Narmada district, which has a 78 per cent tribal population. On Thursday, it was among 14 of the 27 tribal assembly constituencies that voted in the first phase of the Gujarat elections.

In the tribal belt that extends from Sabarkantha district in the north-east to Dang in the south, Narmada district has the highest number of tribals in the state. Almost 45 lakh of the state's 3.78 crore voters are tribals.

Before delimitation, in the assembly elections of 2007, out of the 26 ST-reserved constituencies, 11 went to the BJP, 14 to the Congress, and one to the Janata Dal (U). Earlier a Congress bastion, tribals have been voting for change since the last few assembly elections but they say change has been slow in coming.

"Politicians have been promising us canals, roads and jobs but none of these have materialised," says Roopsinh Vasava from Khardipada village.

The Narmada river flows from Khardipada but the village does not get its waters from it. "Narmada and Ukai dams are not very far from our village but we don't get any water from there," he says. The region suffers from a water shortage, for both drinking and irrigation.

Tribals in this village and other surrounding villages such as Jhak and Rojghat depend on rain-fed farming, and are forced to migrate to other districts to work as labourers for the rest of the months. Gambhirbhai Vasava, another voter, says lack of schools, roads and hospitals is an abiding problem in the tribal region. Few here have heard of the Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana—Chief Minister Narendra Modi's pet project to "ensure quality social and civic infrastructure" in tribal regions.

"We know Narendra Modiji works a lot for development, but we do not get to see it here in our village," says Gambhirbhai of Khardipada village, which accounts for 1,066 votes in the region.

5) Virtual numbers

Avinash Nair


This election, Battleground Gujarat has opened a new front: cyber space. While launching an initiative, 'Join Hands for Change', on social networking sites, the Congress took its rival head on, armed with stats on farmer suicides, crime rate and other issues, while the BJP flooded the web with their own set of facts and truths.

In a hard-fought election campaign in Gujarat, social networking sites have also become a medium for leaders to reach out to their target audience. For instance, Narendra Modi chose to hit back at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for critising his government for reducing the number of sessions in the Gujarat Assembly. "Mr Rahul Gandhi talks of respect for Vidhan Sabha but his own attendance in Lok Sabha between May 2011 and May 2012 was 24 out of 85 sittings!," he tweeted.

"Social networking is one medium where people know that they can connect straight to their leader," says Rajeeka T Kacheria, the BJP's IT cell convenor.

"The online campaigns have been a huge success. Had we been fighting elections on social networking sites, we would still have won hands down," she says. "In the last 25 days, our 'Ek Mat Gujarat' page alone has clocked 1.38 lakh visitors," says Kacheria, adding that the saffron party's online campaigns have targeted mainly the youth in the state. "These online campaigns, however, act as a support to the main campaign of the party," says Kacheria, who has a team of 3,500 contributing to the online efforts of the party.

This time around, connecting to the voters through the online platform has been a crucial part of every party's strategy. "There are over 40 lakh people from Gujarat on Facebook, 30,000 on Twitter and an equal number on Linkedin," says Umakant Mankad, who is in charge of the IT department of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) and heads a team of 400.

Young voters seem to be responding to the online campaigns. "Youngsters like me don't understand politics much. We are likely to get influenced by online campaigns," says Ankitsinh Rajput, a 24-year-old mechanical engineer.

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