Over a week ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted voters in Amreli in Gujarat’s Saurashtra to not “waste” their votes again. “What did they do for you these last five years, tell me? Do you remember even one piece of work they did? Then why are you wasting your votes on them? To strengthen Amreli, I urge you to choose the lotus, the BJP’s election symbol, this time,” he told an election rally on November 20.
By “they”, Modi meant the Congress, which won all five of Amreli district’s Assembly seats in 2017. Buoyed by the Patidar agitation for reservation and GST woes, the grand old party snapped up 28 of the 48 seats in Saurashtra. Five years earlier, in 2012, Amreli had elected two legislators each from the Congress and the BJP and one from the Gujarat Parivartan Party.
Newslaundry spoke with voters in Amreli city as well as five villages around it to see what they made of Modi’s reproach. Mostly, they weren’t enthused by the prime minister’s pitch.
Jagdish Talaviya, who runs a fertiliser shop at Labour Chowk in Amreli, termed Modi’s remarks “despotic”.
“Such remarks don’t behove a prime minister. It’s a democracy where we are free to choose whoever we want. Just because we don’t pick someone from their party doesn’t mean the government will stop developmental work. Go around this district and you will see how many industries there are. None. Such tactics were used when we were enslaved by the British. They used to protect only those who paid taxes. In today’s India, everyone pays taxes,” Talaviya said. He claimed that the prime minister “fumbled 15 times” during his election speech because he had “nothing substantial” to offer Amreli.
Kamlesh Rathod, an impressionist, chipped in. “I don’t agree with Modiji. Dhanani did good work during the pandemic, he provided oxygen cylinders and food,” Rathod said, referring to Amreli City Congress legislator Paresh Dhanani.
At this point, labourers waiting for work shook off their morning languor to speak up. They were rattling off a litany of complaints, most notably that fuel and gas cylinder prices are rising, when a banker wedged his way into the conversation. “The Nagar Palika run by the BJP has done so much work. See these roads, these buildings. The APMC market was built by the BJP,” said Chetan Patel. “Lies,” shouted a few labourers. Patel could not bear the charge and flew off on his bike.
A few yards away at a newspaper stall, Jayesh, a government employee who wouldn’t give his full name, was picking up his paper. “It’s good if we have the ruling party’s MLA in this area. Modiji can get things done for us from Delhi,” said Jayesh, who described himself as a traditional BJP voter.
Go out of the city and Amreli is a green canvas bedecked with snow-white cotton. Here, the farmers had much to say about “wasting” their votes the last time.
“We did waste our votes. See where Kakadiya is now,” Harsh Ahir, a young farmer in Dangavadar village, agreed with Modi. “This time we will waste our votes on AAP.”
Ahir was referring to Jaysukh Kakadiya, who won the Dharia seat for the Congress in 2017 but defected to the BJP three years later.
Babu Vardvariya, who is paraplegic, didn’t “waste” his vote in 2017, but came to regret his choice. “I voted for the BJP last time. I have made four trips to the city to get a government subsidised tricycle. I have all the documents but I am yet to get one,” he said.
In neighbouring Hamapur village, Chandu Umretia, a traditional BJP voter, listed the reasons why he wanted to, in the words of Modi, waste his vote this time. “A year ago, a 50-kg bag of DAP fertiliser cost Rs 750. Now, it’s Rs 1,350. The weight of the urea bag has come down to 45 kg from 50 kg, but the price is the same. One litre of pesticide costs Rs 600-Rs 700 compared to Rs 200 a year ago. Having electricity for irrigation only at night endangers our lives as we encounter wild animals like lions and leopards. We’re still thinking about our options. It could be AAP or the Congress. But it’s surely not the BJP,” said Umretia, a cotton farmer.
A few days ago, Kakadiya’s wife arrived to campaign in the Dalit colony of about 50 families on the edge of Hamapur, only to be snubbed for not fulfilling the legislator’s promise of a road and a drainage system. “The Dalit is nobody’s child. It does not matter whether it’s the BJP, the Congress or AAP,” said Basubhai Parmar, who is visually impaired.
In Kagdadi village, cotton farmer Devsinh Serviya expressed a similar sentiment. “If we vote for the BJP, that’s a waste as well, no? All these years, the BJP has flashed only ‘victory’ signs without doing anything for farmers,” he complained.
A small group of fellow farmers listening to the conversation burst into laughter. They guided this reporter to a five-metre bridge laid low over a drain. It is the only link between the two sections of the village. “It gets filled up when it rains and nobody can cross to the other side. No party has tried to raise it a bit higher,” lamented Dhanji Kanani, one of the farmers.
The road from Kagdadi to Bhader village about 5 km away is in such a state that the drive was bone-rattling. The villagers said they struggled to get to hospital if there was a medical emergency. “I have always voted for the Congress. But we also gave the BJP a chance and they have been governing for 27 years now. Show me what development the BJP has done? The farmer is distressed, petrol and diesel prices are up, GST is levied on everything. Why does the BJP not impose GST on breathing and defecating? This time, the broom will show its magic,” declared Rameshbai Patel, a farmer in the village who runs a garage in Surat, referring to AAP’s election symbol.
Vipulbhai Gadiya believed that voting for the BJP would be a waste. “The reason is simple: last month, Modi promised Rs 11,000 crore for Saurashtra. Forget Rs 11,000 crore, we have not got even Rs 11 crore. He is just a talking head, he does not work,” he said.
In Shedubhar village, Dilip Knala unspooled Modi’s dig. “He wanted to say that the state government is run by the BJP. And here it’s the opposite: the Congress wins. So the area is lagging in development. That’s why he said, ‘Your vote is wasted.’” Knala said that the Congress won Amreli in 2017 because of the Patidar agitation.
Nearly 80 km southeast of Shedubhar lies Lalpur in Junagadh district. The farmers in this village have the same issues: crop losses from boar infestation, man-animal conflict, and runaway input farm costs. “It’s the prerogative of the voters to decide who they choose. Junagadh and Amreli have been the Congress party strongholds. That’s why every common man chose the Congress. This time, they will vote for AAP,” said Girish Dave, a farmer who runs a grocery store.
Of Junagadh’s five Assembly seats, the Congress won four in 2017 and the BJP one. Five years earlier, when the district had seven seats the BJP won four seats, the Congress two and the Gujarat Parivartan Party one.
Bharat Katria, a cotton farmer in Lalpur, felt that farmers in the region were distressed. “They have hiked GST on farm machinery. You know how much we have to pay for a submersible irrigation pump? Rs 15,000. During the Congress party’s rule it was around Rs 5,000.”
As for the BJP’s promise to double farmer incomes, he said at least cotton prices have gone up from Rs 1,100-1,200 per 20 kg last year to Rs 1,700-Rs 1,800. “In 10 years before 2021, however, the price of cotton didn’t change. Groundnut fetches the same price now as in 2014,” he complained.
Ashok Katsariya, another farmer in the village, struck a different note. He said the villagers should choose the BJP because it was very strong nationally.
Pictures by Shivnarayan Rajpurohit.
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