Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is facing a major challenge in its stronghold of Surat, thanks to PM Narendra Modi’s demonetisation and GST initiatives. The Surat Lok Sabha, which has 12 Vidhan Sabha constituencies under it, has been a BJP stronghold for past three decades. So much so that party’s Kashiram Rana is representing the constituency for past six terms. Similar is the scenario when it comes to Assembly seats. Last time, BJP had won all 12 Assembly seats form the region. However, the saffron party may face difficulties in repeating their performance here. The business community is unhappy with demonetisation and GST initiative – both of which seem to have hurt the local hard. A number of businessmen express their anger and count the difficulties they faced after the Centre rolled out two schemes. Dineshbhai Patel, a diamond broker, says his sale has been hit hard after GST roll out. He says that sale usually picks around Christmas, but it is down now because “everything needs a bill”.
Dineshbhai says that first demonetisation hit the business community hard, and now, GST has created problems. There is a slump in our business. “We are all stuck in paperwork… we are not so literate, and all the paperwork will leave us with no profit,” he said while speaking to The Indian Express.
Unlike the last time, where there was BJP wave and the party had swept all 12 Assembly seats from here last time, people are coming out and saying that they might go against BJP this time. Dineshbhai says that he will vote for the Congress. “This time, we have to show them (the BJP),” he says The Varachha Road constituency here is set to witness a close contest. BJP MLA Kumar Kanani is facing close contests against Congress candidate Dhiru Gajera – a former BJP man who was elected twice from here. Issuing of ticket to Gajera also came after an interesting turn. He is said to be second choice for the Congress after it removed Praful Togadia, a local corporator and cousin of VHP leader Pravin Togadia.
The development came following pressure from the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) — of around 2.03 lakh voters in Varachha, 1.74 lakh are Patidars. In Praful Togadia’s words, Congress stands a strong chance in four seats – Katargam, Varachha Road, Surat and Karanj. He says that these four seats will be impacted by (PAAS leader) Hardik Patel.
Referring to leader Rahul Gandhi’s visit nearly three weeks ago, Togadiya says that Congress had never been able to organise a public meeting in Varachha, however, they did it this time.
Among Surat’s 12 constituencies – Kamrej, Varachha and Katargam are dominated by Patidars and saw protests against the BJP during and after the PAAS agitation. Also, traders from this constituency agree that it will be a challenge for the ruling party next month. Sureshbhai Patel, another trader, seconds the thoughts of Dineshbhai and says that GST has hit the smaller businessmen harder. He says that the earnings have touched as low as Rs 10,000 a month. In his view, the big businessmen did not suffer much because they had everything on paper and also had the option of payment through ‘cash credit’ at the bank. The area has about 80 diamond trading offices and employs around 1 lakh people. 75 percent people employed here come from the are Patel community.
However, there are some traders who express displeasure with GST and demonetisation but still pledge their support to the saffron party. Ghanshyam Patel, who switched from embroidery to the diamond business 18 months ago, is one such resident. He says, “The government wants to earn from our business for free. But if my business fails, who is responsible? Everyone thinks we are diamond traders, so we are rich, but this is a myth.” Yet, Sureshbhai and Ghanshyam insist they will continue to vote for the BJP. He further explaining his support for the ruling party. Ghanshyam says that 80 per cent of people have never been to school, adding, that they may feel harassed but the Patidars will vote for BJP.
However, both, BJP and Congress supporters echo each other on one note: they support the Patidar quota agitation. Yet, they assert that Hardik Patel’s influence has waned because “the men around him are not so good”.