The view on the ground suggests that the party in power might have to cede some seats from its current tally as voters in Gujarat seem upset with recent government initiatives like GST and demonetisation.
With so many headlines screaming Gujarat nowadays, it is easy to get carried away into thinking we know what’s going on there. The general opinion seems to be that the Bharatiya Janata Party, still riding the Modi wave, will sweep the upcoming assembly elections and re-establish itself as the de facto power in the state.
But when a Moneycontrol team visited Ahmedabad and explored various nooks and crannies of the city, interacting with people all the way, the look and feel on the ground suggested something slightly different. With most basic needs of people having been addressed by the current government, voters now seem smarter than before and more aware of what was going on.
Farid, 35, the taxi driver who took our team from the airport to their hotel, believed that the Congress party is all set to surprise the BJP and form a government in the state. He believed that it was demonetisation that damaged BJP’s chances to win in Gujarat once again because the exercise brought with it a lot of suffering.
Although Farid’s view was seldom mirrored by anyone else in the city, it was certainly an indicator that things were not going to be as smooth for the BJP this time around as it was in 2012.
To get a better idea of what was really going on in the minds of voters, the team decided to visit Manek Chowk late at night and talk to a few business owners there. The chowk is well known for being home to three different kinds of business owners during different times of the day; vegetable sellers in the morning, jewellery shop owners in the afternoon and sellers of street food at night.
“I will only support Modi ji. I like the way they (the BJP) work for the country. So, my vote will certainly go to Modi,” said Vaibhav, a resident of the city working as a chartered accountant for Deloitte.
Vaibhav was one of the myriad people at Manek Chowk at the time and was certainly not the only one openly favouring the BJP. Vinod, another visitor to one of the many food stalls at the chowk, said that he had supported the BJP in whatever work it had done so far. He also went on to say that the demand for caste-based reservation was dragging the country back into history instead of propelling it into the future.
A pav bhaji seller on the street also seemed to share Vaibhav and Vinod’s appreciation for BJP’s work. “We sell pav bhaji on the road and it won’t be right for us to comment on politics because it is bad for business. But it should be said that the development of the river front and the Kankaria area, both of which came under Narendra Modi’s old constituency when he was Chief Minister, have increased business at Manek Chowk,” he said.
The small-time business owner also quipped that the effect of demonetisation had disappeared in two months and that people in his line of work don’t come under the ambit of GST.
However, what was noticeable was that people were aware that BJP is not likely to bag as many seats as it did last time. A food lover from Rajkot who the team met in Ahmedabad told them that he believed BJP would win a maximum of 105 seats this time, as opposed to 116 in 2012.
Just 100 metres away from Manek Chowk is a famous cloth market where the merchants do not seem to share the warmth the BJP is used to from the people of Gujarat. Sadik, the owner of a cloth store in the area, said that the business community of the state is mighty upset with the party in power.
“This time, there is a good chance that Congress will form a government in Gujarat,” Sadik said. “The Muslim community accounts for only 10 percent of the state’s business community, but the remaining 90 percent still belong to other communities. It is this 90 percent that is very upset because of the way GST and demonetisation were rolled out.”
The cloth store owner added that ever since GST was rolled out, and since people in his industry fall under its ambit, it has been nothing but an accounting nightmare. “Even practicing chartered accountants are totally clueless about GST and it is creating a lot of problems for us,” he said.
On their way back to the hotel, the team met with an autorickshaw driver who seemed to carry a keen interest in the state’s politics. “Muslims usually form the traditional voter base of the Congress, but this time even business-owning Hindus are likely to vote for Congress,” he said. “Their share will surely increase. I don’t think Congress will form a government but it will certainly give a tough fight to the BJP. Even some votes from the Patidar community will go to the Congress.”
Meanwhile, there were some in the city who remained steadfast in their decision to vote for the BJP. A business owner named Govinda, who runs a shop on SG Highway, said that his family had stuck by BJP and that he would do the same when the time came.
“Hardik Patel is diverting attention from important issues with this plight for reservation,” Govinda said. “I don’t understand why Patels need this reservation in the first place. There was a ceramic exhibition held in the city recently where the cost of setting up one stall was around Rs 2 lakh. Even with that kind of a price tag, 90 percent of the stalls were occupied by Patels.”
The retailer added that he did not see more than 15 percent of the Patel community supporting Hardik Patel because the community had seen genuine development over the last couple of decades. However, he said that it was the garments business that was hurt the most because of GST and that could play a part in determining which party gets how many seats.Chirag Shah, an equity trader based in the city, told the team that he thought it was good for the country that a state like Gujarat, which already has all its basic needs addressed, is still demanding more from the government.