(AFP PHOTO / Sam PANTHAKY)
It was the urban bastions in cities like Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot that saved the day for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat. If the urban seats are taken away from the final tally of 99 that the party has clocked in these Assembly polls, the picture that emerges is a dismal one for the party.
Rural Gujarat at large has made the BJP bite the dust in these elections and has preferred Congress over the saffron party.
It was in the rural hinterland that the actual issues were being raised by the people and these formed the poll narrative. The BJP could not answer the questions it faced with regards to its much-hyped ‘Gujarat Model’. Simply making claims on ‘Vikas’ did not work with the masses.
The seats that the party won in the rural areas can mainly be attributed to the good micro-management that it had put in place. One came across scores of Sangh Parivar functionaries in the tribal areas who had come from as far as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and were trying to reach out to people at the booth-level. The party had got its functionaries from across India to campaign for months in Gujarat to oversee the poll preparations.
If one looks at the results region-wise, one can see that the BJP got a thrashing in the all-important Saurashtra region. This had been a bastion of the party over the last two decades with the farmers backing it. One of the reasons for this was that the party had made Keshubhai Patel its first chief minister in Gujarat. He was seen as a farmers’ leader and is still remembered for his interventions in the rural economy, particularly erecting a large number of check dams for water management at the micro level.
In Saurashtra, the Patidars in the villages stood against the BJP this time not for reservations in jobs and educational institutions but on the issue of farm distress. Saurashtra has put a big question mark on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Gujarat model by sending home the message that development cannot be without taking into consideration the rural populace.
The farmers here were agitated with not getting remunerative prices for their cotton and groundnut crops despite two good monsoons. They were consistently talking about Modi’s promise of getting them a rate of Rs1,500 per 20 kg ahead of the Lok Sabha polls while terming cotton as ‘white gold’.
According to farmers’ leaders the production this year has crossed 90 lakh bales. With the government having announced a procurement price of Rs 910 per 20 kg, the farmer was actually able to retrieve from the private players nothing beyond Rs 750 per 20 kg as procurement by the government remained a tedious procedure.
Things then came to a point where the private players also stopped procuring as ginning units stopped the purchase of cotton on account of delay in refunds of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The government announcing bonus payments at the eleventh hour could not pacify the farmers.
The same was the story for groundnut where the produce has been around 31.29 metric tonnes. The procurement price announced by the government is Rs 900 per 20 kg. But the procedural hiccups and other failures of the government led the farmer to sell between Rs 600 and Rs 650 per 20 kg. At many places the private players stopped procurement saying they have no place to store the procured lot.
The BJP leadership is trying to project that demonetisation and implementation of GST was not an issue in these polls as the party won a majority of the seats in the business centres. What these leaders are not telling or have not gauged is that it was the people who had returned to their villages after losing their jobs on account of these two factors who voted against them.
The issue of water availability remained on top of the poll narrative in the small towns and villages. At several places, people complained of being deprived of Narmada canal water for irrigation despite their villages being located very close to the canal. In certain areas, even water supply for daily use was a major concern.
It was pointed by the people belonging to areas like Dahod and Dangs that if the tribal population there is somehow empowered to take two harvests from their pieces of land, the migration of people to other districts could come down drastically.
In parts of central and north Gujarat, people were angry over the poor returns they were getting for their potato produce. In Kapadvanj, they claimed that they were compelled to sell their produce for Rs 40 per 50 kg of potatoes. The Congress promise of a farm loan waiver also played a role in the party getting the support in the rural areas of the state.
In the rural areas, there was also the common refrain of how the successive governments in the state have pandered to the private sector in the sectors of education and health. They complained of lack of teachers and doctors in government-run schools and hospitals thus making them dependent on trust run hospitals and poorly managed private schools.
Talking in sociological terms, the caste combinations adopted by the Congress did prove effective. A youngster from Ahmedabad explained the Gujarat results on Facebook in these words, “Communalism of the cities trumped the casteism of the villages – Gujarat Verdict.”
A textbook case to have emerged in these elections is that of Dalit youth leader Jignesh Mevani winning the Vadgam seat. Mevani had gone late to Vadgam from outside the constituency to contest as an independent with the backing of the Congress. His poll was crowd-funded.
Activists from across the country came to the constituency to help him with streaming on the social media on one hand and reach out to the masses on the other. The result was the Dalits, Muslims and other communities who have been left out of the development narrative coming together to make him victorious.
Observers have been talking about the new PODA (Patidars, Other Backward Castes, Dalits and Adivasi) model to have evolved against the BJP in the rural areas.
It remains to be seen how far this model goes for the benefit of the Congress. Meanwhile, the outcome in rural Gujarat has surely rung the alarm bells for the BJP in this citadel, particularly for Modi and the BJP’s national president Amit Shah who will have to take a call very soon on the state of affairs.