The Patidar-dominated Amreli is gearing up for a fight between two strong Patel candidates in the assembly segment, where farm issues are dominating the campaign discourse.
The Patidar-dominated Amreli is gearing up for a fight between two strong Patel candidates in the assembly segment, where farm issues are dominating the campaign discourse. Sitting Congress MLA Paresh Dhanani is pitted against BJP heavyweight Bavkubhai Undhad, the legislator from the nearby Lathi seat who has been fielded from Amreli this time. There is a talk in political circles here that Dhanani could emerge as a strong contender for the chief minister’s post if he retains his seat and the Congress dislodges the BJP from power in Gandhinagar. Dhanani, 41, is considered close to Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and had accompanied the latter during his campaign tours. In the 2012 Assembly elections, Dhanani had registered a resounding victory – he won by a margin of more than 18 per cent votes over his nearest rival Dilip Sanghavi, a senior BJP leader and prominent cooperative leader. The most important issue in this agriculture-dominated constituency, known for cotton cultivation, is farm distress, and the Congress seems to be cashing in on this. The Patidars form 60 per cent of the population in the Amreli assembly segment followed by Kolis at 15 per cent. Besides farm matters, issues like the impact of the Centre’s demonetisation move and effects of GST on the diamond polishing industry are being raised aggressively by the candidates. A section of farmers believes that the promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding minimum support price (MSP) for farm produce and tackling issues related to agriculture have not been fulfilled. “Modiji had promised us (MSP of) Rs 2,000 per 20 kg on cotton against Rs 1,500 given by the UPA government. But we are getting Rs 800-900, which is causing us a huge loss. Many of us have not got crop insurance money,” said a cotton farmer, Pankaj Chavda. Chavda added that the PM’s pre-Lok Sabha election promise of giving farmers a support price that is 50 per cent more than production cost of a crop, too, remains a pipe dream.
In Amreli, where farmers mainly grow cotton, the crop has seen a sharp decline in prices this year, fuelling anger against the state government. Amreli district Congress president Pankaj Kanabar said Chief Minister Vijay Rupani recently announced his government would purchase cotton at Rs 100 per 20 kg over and above the MSP. However, Kanabar alleged only the farmers who were close to the BJP were getting this benefit. “It is a scam in which BJP’s commission agents have made a lot of money while genuine farmers have been left out,” he said. The BJP candidate Undhad is trying to douse the anger of the Patidars against the ruling party by listing the efforts made by the Rupani government to address the grievances of the community. Patidar quota stir spearhead Hardik Patel is expected to address an election rally in Amreli on December 6. Undhad is battling the image of a politician who has switched sides. He started out as a BJP leader and later joined the Congress and became its MLA from Lathi in 2012. He came back to the BJP fold in 2014 and was made a minister. The BJP said it is on a strong wicket in Amreli as its candidate has developed strong links with the constituency, while the sitting MLA is hardly seen here.
“The BJP is strong because Bavkubhai lives here most of the time, while Congress candidate Paresh Dhanani mostly remains outside the constituency and is rarely seen here,” said district BJP president Hiren Hilpara. “As far as farmer issues are concerned, we are making sure all farmers get higher rate than MSP for their produce. The government is making purchases of groundnut and cotton which will continue till March next year,” he said. Voting in Amreli will take place on December 9. There are a total of nine candidates in the fray, including four independents, but the fight is likely to be between Dhanani and Undhad. The NCP and the BSP have also fielded their nominees.