GUJARAT ASSEMBLY POLLS  ‘Diamond city’ Surat to witness tough contest

Ahmedabad, Dec 7: Surat — Gujarat’s diamond city and the epicenter of the Patidar quota movement — is set for a tough Assembly poll battle as the Congress has added the face of the Patidar agitation Hardik Patel to its arsenal this time.

Amid issues like implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation, apart from the ‘Patidar’ factor, it is to be seen for whom the large trading community of this diamond and textile hub will vote, when the city goes to polls in the first phase Saturday.

Though Ahmedabad is the largest city of Gujarat, Surat is a favoured destination of political heavyweights in this poll season.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi visited the city twice last month to understand the plight of those who were “hit by GST and note ban”.

During his visit, Gandhi also addressed a huge rally in the city’s Patidar strongholds – Varachha and Katargam.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month addressed a rally at Kadodara, located on the city’s outskirts.

The Congress is hoping to snatch some seats from the BJP this time by capitalising on the ‘anger’ factor of Patidars and the traders.

On the other side, the BJP is confident of retaining its bastion, as its leaders claim the ‘ground reality’ is different from what the Congress is projecting.

Out of the total 12 constituencies in Surat city, nearly half of the seats – Varachha Road, Kamrej, Katargam, Karanj, Olpad and Udhna – have a concentrated population of Patidars, who mostly migrated here from Saurashtra.

The remaining six seats are – Surat-East, Surat-North, Surat-West, Choryasi, Limbayat and Majura.

To some extent, Surat-North and Majura seats also have a significant population of Patidars, who are into various businesses, including diamond cutting, polishing, trading and in different trades associated with textiles.

The city has been a bastion of the BJP since long.

But, the political scenario in this bustling business hub seems to have changed after Hardik Patel started the agitation to get reservation for his community two years back.

 At that time, Surat witnessed large scale violence and arson, mostly in Varachha and adjoining areas.

Out of the two sedition cases lodged against Hardik, one was registered in Surat. Since then, the Hardik-led agitating body – Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) – is up in arms against the ruling BJP and has vowed to defeat it.

Notably, BJP president Amit Shah had to cut short his speech at a function in Varachha area in September when some PAAS agitators created chaos by shouting slogans and throwing chairs.

Now, in an apparent bid to thwart the anti-incumbency factor following the Patidar ‘anger’, the BJP has dropped six of its sitting MLAs – from Kamrej, Surat-East, Surat-North, Karanj, Udhna and Katargam seats.

Out of the nearly 1.98 lakh voters of Varachha Road seat, the Patidars are in the driving seat with their number being over 1.5 lakh.

In Kamrej, where the total electorate is about 4.28 lakh, the Patidars alone account for over two lakh.

In Katargam, having around 2.77 voters, the Patidars are in a dominating position with over 1.18 lakh electorate.

Besides the ‘angry’ Patidars and traders, there are various other factors which could breach the hull of BJP’s ship in this coastal city.

Since a large population, mostly Patels, of this city belongs to Saurashtra region, the agrarian crisis back home could also add fuel into their ‘anger’ here, Surat city Congress president Hasmukh Desai said.

Apart from Patidars, the Congress is also banking on small traders and entrepreneurs whose businesses were claimed to have been hit by demonetisation and the implementation of GST by the BJP-led government at the Centre. (PTI)

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