The Gujarati conundrum: People want change, but urban population may vote for BJP 

Congress stands a chance but the Modi factor cannot be ruled out. The people of Gujarat want change but a credible alternative came only recently with Rahul’s emergence as a national leader

Photo Courtesy: Social Media
Photo Courtesy: Social Media


Located at the Sansakar Kendra Marg in Ahmadabad, Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan – the state headquarters of the Congress party is bustling. Party workers, leaders, supporters and media persons throng the party office early in the morning and remain till late in the evening. Various teams comprising researchers, activists and members of the civil society from other states have been camping in the multi-storied building for months.

An statue of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi stands imposingly in front of the ivory-coloured four-storey building, which wore a deserted look even until a couple of months ago. It has now become has become a hypocenter of Congress politics in northern Gujarat.

“I have never seen such an energetic atmosphere at the Congress office, said Haneef, who sells flags, wrist bands, posters other campaign material in front of the Congress office. “Congress has a good chance this time but the Modi factor cannot be ruled out,” he said, while adding that people of Gujarat want change. But credible alternative was not there until Rahul’s emergence.

However, when asked what he thinks of BJP, Haneef was curt. “You know what BJP did with us in the past.”

NH Photo by Vishwadeepak
NH Photo by Vishwadeepak
Haneef in front of the Congress office in Ahmedabad

Ahmadabad district has 17 assembly seats out of which BJP has won 15 seats in 2012 assembly election while Congress could bag only two seats.

Not just in Ahmedabad, but in other urban centers too BJP had a clear lead over Congress in the last assembly election. According to election commission data, at present, Congress holds just four of 46 urban seats and BJP 42 in major urban centers of Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Gandhinagar, Vadodara and Bhavnagar. In 2012 Assembly elections, BJP had won 15 of 16 seats in Surat, 15 of 17 in Ahmedabad, 3 of 4 four in Rajkot, both seats in Gandhinagar, and all five in Baroda and both in Bhavnagar.

Adding Modi factor with Gujarati identity, BJP is hoping to repeat the performance while Congress is backing upon the anti-incumbency and resentment caused by both GST and demonetisation. The narrative of rural-urban divide is also playing its role.

While more people in the city were found to be supportive for the BJP, slum dwellers, the poor and marginalised people living in the outskirts of the city spoke in favour of the Congress.

Elaborating the rural-urban divide, Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi said, “The poor have never been on BJP’s priority list. People have been accepting Rahul Gandhi in large numbers. They look at him with hope. The more he is he is being accepted, the more Modi is losing his appeal. People of Gujarat are pissed off with Modi’s melodrama and theatrics.”

However, Chaturvedi, who has been touring for months, believes that Congress needs to work harder in urban pockets. It is important to note that Gujarat has the maximum urban population - 42.5 per cent in the country. Analysts feel GST has caused a serious dent to Modi’s image, but, it would be immature to write off his appeal to the masses.

Spokesperson of Gujarat BJP, Harshad Patel claims, “Modi is the only factor. It is evident by the fact that we won many by elections after 2014 and our hold on the ground remains intact. Modi represents the Gujarati identity. We are confident that we will more than 150 seats.”

While a small section of the city dwellers attribute Rahul Gandhi’s hard work and simple image as a reason behind revival of the Congress, many feel that the Modi magic – despite it being on the decline – will work for the BJP.

“In the last 22 years BJP has taken full control over the system. It has deeply penetrated and divided the society. BJP with the help of right wing affiliates runs the system in Gujarat. It will use both money power as well as muscle power to win the election,” said an Ahmadabad-based journalist on condition of anonymity.

A fellow passenger, an army official posted in Nagaland, who was travelling to Ahmedabad to cast his vote, presents the perfect example of why Gujaratis still feel for Modi and may vote for the BJP in urban centers.

He said, “Modi works for the country. He has given Gujaratis many reasons to vote for him. Development is indeed a factor but what Modi did is incomparable. Modi gave us a sense of pride. He made us feel that we are the best not only in country but in the world also.”

However, the six-feet-tall army official could not explain what he meant by development and “Gujarati pride” but he was firm in his belief. His statement is a reflection what urban population think of Modi and the BJP.

Sandeep Bhai, a Brahmin, who runs a small eatery in Navrangpura area of Ahmedabad, came back to the state after spending nine years in west Asia. Though he is slightly disillusioned by the BJP, he believes Modi is good for the country. “BJP may lose some seats in Saurashtra and rural areas but they will form the Government,” he said, while adding that the Modi is the best.

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Published: 10 Dec 2017, 5:59 PM