Saurashtra-Kutch region holds key to Gujarat fate
Political significance of Saurashtra-Kutch region in Gujarat is similar to that of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in national politics. In the upcoming Assembly polls, the politically active coastal region, having rich cultural heritage, is expected to decide the fate of a new Government in Gandhinagar.
Of four regions in the poll- bound State, Saurashtra-Kutch sends largest number of 54 MLAs to the State Assembly. Geographically, the region forms two-thirds of Gujarat’s total area. Just like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, deep-tooted caste system exists here. The intensity of the ongoing pro-quota Patidar agitation is much higher than the other three regions — north, central and south Gujarat.
Under Narendra Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister, the BJP won three previous Assembly polls and in the process transformed Saurashtra-Kutch region. In the three polls, the BJP won around 40 seats from here and kept the Congress out of power.
In the last two elections, the Congress tried hard to make a dent in the BJP vote-bank by fielding BJP “rebels” like former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel and Patidar leaders. However, the oldest political party miserably failed. Even this time, the Opposition party has not left any stone unturned to improve its tally by raising issues of Dalit flogging in Una and supporting pro-quota agitation of Patidars.
Spread across 12 districts out of 33 in the State, Patidars and Koli form around 40 per cent, the largest chunk of population here. OBCs, Kshatriya and fishermen communities are also having decisive say over a few seats. Apart from caste factors, water, employment, prices of agriculture commodities — cotton and groundnut are major issues here.
Ever since the formation of Gujarat in 1960, Saurashtrians have complaint that the region has been ignored when it came to development. This discontent led to demand of separate statehood in the past. Tough condition for agriculture in parts of Saurashtra and limited employment opportunities in the absence of major industrial development forced large number of Kathiawadis to migrate to bigger cities like Surat, Ahmedabad and Vadodara. In the past one decade the process has slowed down with arrival of water to Narmada project and back-to-back good monsoons.
Top leaders of both major parties BJP and Congress — Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi — held maximum number of rallies here in the past six months. The Congress vice-president visited all the major Hindu religious places here — Dwarka, Somnath, Chotila to name a few. Unlike Modi, the Congress focused on smaller meetings in the Patidar-dominated areas. On the other hand, Modi is addressing huge rallies and asking for votes on development plank.
“There has been tremendous industrial development after the devastating 2001 earthquake in Kutch. Arrival of Narmada water has solved drinking water problems of this parch district. Many Kutchis who had migrated to different places came back to their motherland,” says Himanshu Chothani, a businessman and resident of Bhuj, headquarters of bordering Kutch district.
The farmers here complain that even if they have bumper crop of cotton and groundnut, their plights do not change because prices of these items are always low. Kantibhai Ukani, a farmer in Junagadh district, says that the State Government needed to intervene by increasing minimum support price (MSP).
Despite Hardik Patel’s frequent public meetings and Patidar agitation, a section of the Patels still backs the BJP-led Government saying that completion of Narmada dam project and arrival of Narmada water in the region through SAUNI irrigation project will have a long term positive impact on agriculture.
“The Congress and Hardik have challenged development issues of the BJP Government. But everything they are saying is not right. We are enjoying 24X7 electricity and availability of irrigation water. It was not the case under Congress Governments,” says Vithal Patel, a farmer in Atkot village situated on Rajkot-Bhavnagar highway.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, who is contesting from Rajkot, the biggest city of the region, knows the pulse of the region. After Modi became Gujarat CM in October 2001, Rupani was made in-charge for Saurashtra-Kutch region in 2002, 2007 and 2012 elections and contributed significantly in the victory of his party. State BJP chief Jitu Vaghani is contesting from Bhavnagar, the second biggest city of the region. Senior Congress leaders Shanktisinh Gohil, Arjun Modhvadia and Paresh Dhanani are in the fray.
Anticipating major shift of traditional Patidar vote-bank in its favour, the Congress leaders are expecting to win at least 30 seats in the region. On the other hand, the BJP claims that the agitation will not have much impact on polling and its development agenda would prevail over everything else.
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