Ground Report: Narendra Modi’s Supporters in Ahmedabad Explain Why BJP Won’t Get a Majority in Lok Sabha Polls
This time, the BJP is facing the wrath of even urban voters who have been credited with the party’s previous wins.
Rinaben Prakash Vaghela, 32, is ashamed to admit that she defecates in the open. She even has to struggle to get clean water to drink. The drainage system in her area is non-existent. Come monsoon, her colony will be filled with rainwater, excreta and filth. Rinaben doesn’t live in a remote corner of the country, she stays just behind high rise buildings in Nikol, Ahmedabad.
A domestic worker, Rinaben had high hopes when Narendra Modi became the prime minister in 2014. This election she isn’t sure if she will vote for him again. She is not willing to buy the dreams of achhe din that Modi had sold in 2014 any more. Nikol — chiefly inhabited by individuals belonging to the SC, ST and OBC communities — falls under Ahmedabad East Constituency.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has replaced MP Paresh Rawal with Amraiwadi MLA Hasmukh Patel and the Congress party has fielded Geeta Patel, a popular face of the Patidar agitation movement. The residents of the area complain that no politician pays heed to the dehumanising conditions in which they live. “Nobody comes to see even the children who live here. No water, no toilets, no electricity and no drainage — this government is not for the poor,” Rinaben says.
In another part of the same constituency, businessman Ramesh Sabhagchandani* is worried because the footfall in the Sindhi Market has reduced. Sabhagchandani, a cloth material seller, calls himself a Modi-supporter and claims that the prime minister works hard. “I wasn’t really affected by demonetisation. But, GST created havoc. Now, since the last three-four months, sales have dropped drastically, I am not able to understand why customers are not coming. The economy has suffered. But, I won’t say that Modiji doesn’t work, I’m still his supporter,” he says, adding, “He has not worked for businessmen like us. The economy hasn’t progressed under him. There are no jobs, many businesses are not making money. The Opposition is giving a tough fight and this time BJP might not get majority too.”
In Khanpur Fruit Market, Munaf Sheikh and Nitinbhai Thakar — both have tempos and run small-scale transportation business — underline that they earn merely Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000 now as demonetisation and GST “destroyed” their market. “I used to make around Rs 70,000 on an average. Now, only the big transporters can function without any hassle, we are struggling to survive. I don’t want my children to join this business,” Thakar says.
50,000 Unhappy Cloth Traders
Local BJP leaders refuse to admit that GST is a poll issue in Ahmedabad. “Nobody is unhappy with the government due to GST. No cloth trader has a problem. If anyone has any issue, please ask them to speak to me,” BJP Ahmedabad East candidate Hasmukh Patel says.
After GST came into force in June 2015, nearly 50,000 wholesale and semi-wholesale cloth traders kept their shutters down in the city against the imposition of five per cent GST on textiles for two weeks. They called off the strikes after the Modi government’s assurance to look into their demand for its rollback. However, their demand have not been met. The traders explain that after demonetisation and GST, the purchasing power of people has also reduced which led to a further slowdown of the economy.
“In the name of GST, the government has created a mess. What constructive work have they done in five years? The government has only taken money from us. However, there’s no question regarding whom we will vote. It is decided, Modiji, obviously,” Babu Sahu, a wholesale cloth trader in Ghantakarn Mahaveer Market, says. Like many others running small and medium-scale businesses in Ahmedabad, he argues that the economic setback caused by Modi’s policies is likely to reflect on the Lok Sabha poll results and the BJP will not get a majority.
“If you find a single person in the entire make happy then come and speak to me. This government’s performance has been disappointing. I’m not sure if I’ll vote this time. I’m still thinking,” says Madhav Solanki*, who owns a store at the same market in Ahmedabad.
A few metres away from the Ghantakarn Mahaveer Market, wholesale traders and commission agents in New Cloth Market also feel that BJP’s prospects don’t look very bright. When asked if the BJP will get a majority, a cloth shop owner, Anshuman Agarwal says, “When I speak to my friends (outside Gujarat), many mention that they will press NOTA, others say that they will elect the local Congress candidate based on his performance. But, I personally think that the NDA might form the government again as there’s no strong Opposition.” In post-GST months, Agarwal mentions, the revenue margin in the New Cloth Market has dropped by 50 per cent on an average.
Ghantakarn Mahaveer Market and New Cloth Market fall under Ahmedabad West constituency which is a reserved seat. The BJP has fielded its sitting MP Kirit P Solanki and the Congress party has given the ticket to three-term Rajya Sabha MP Raju Parmar. For the voters, the candidates don’t appear to matter much as they are more concerned about siding with either the Congress party or the BJP.
How do we sell pakodas?
The street vendors in Ahmedabad say they voted for Modi during the last elections as they were wooed by his promises. Now, they are disappointed and claim that both the Modi government and Vijay Rupani dispensations are conspiring to finish street vendors in an attempt to support big businessmen.
“We fight to earn two pennies daily. The BJP-run Municipality and the police got a free run after 2014. Every other day they pick our carts,” says Ilaben Patani who sells fruits in Khanpur area. “We are voting for the Congress party this election. This government is not for the poor.”
The vendors are demanding the implementation of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014. The act recognises vending as a legal right and states that any decision regarding the declaration of any area as a vending zone or non-vending zone cannot be taken without the permission of the Town Vending Committee (TVC). However, vendors are regularly evicted from the streets by the BJP-run local body in the name of de-congesting the roads for traffic control. The municipality officials pick up the carts and refuses to return them for months and in the process the vendors loose their livelihood. “Modiji speaks about frying and selling pakoras and samosas. Are we supposed to sell in malls? These carts are our only source of income,” Jagdish Soni, who sells Maggi and tea outside HL Commerce College, says.
Lari Galla Patharna Sangh convener Rakesh Mehariya slams the Modi government for allotting acres of land to builders and their own offices. He questions why the government cannot allocate land to the vendors. “The system is very corrupt. There are around 1 lakh 30 thousand street vendors in Ahmedabad and every month, the local municipality collects crores of amount as bribe money and even by taking our products, materials and carts,” Mehariya says.
He adds, “I just want to say that the country should ensure that the next prime minister is one who works for the poor. This is not a small issue. It (eviction of street vendors) is done to benefit Modi’s industrialist friends who run malls. If we shut our shops, people will be forced to buy stuff only from the malls. We will protest and explain the larger issue to the public.”
Alienation of Dalits and Muslims
The Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch is running a door-to-door campaign “BJP Bhagao Desh Bachao” in Ahmedabad. The organisation is urging people to remember issues like Rohith Vemula’s suicide, rape of Dalit girls across the country, unemployment and farm distress while casting their votes. The organisation member Rashmikant Parmar says, “When we go to the local BJP leaders and ask them for any work, they directly ask why should we work for you, did the SC community vote for us?” He asserts that the names of many voters belonging to the SC community are deleted from the electoral rolls.
For the construction of the Ahmedabad Metro, multiple houses in slum areas were destroyed. The government had promised to rehabilitate the affected people, mainly belonging to the SC community, to developed areas such as Nigam Nagar in Chandkheda and Bodakdev. For this, fingerprint of the people were also taken on blank papers. Now, the government has shifted them to Chamanpura, where they don’t have basic civic facilities like toilets and water.
In the Muslim-dominated Teen Darwaza, the anger against the communal vitriol spread by Modi and Amit Shah is visible. Voters suggest they will support the Congress party. A juice shop owner Ashraf Khan says that since Modi assumed power at the Centre, officials don’t miss an opportunity to harass Muslims. “My son is 19 years old. When I wanted to get his voter id card, the officials refused to register his name and asked me to get different documents, simply with the intention to harass. But, I didn’t budge and managed to get it.”
The impact on the party’s fortunes
Congress Ahmedabad East candidate Geeta Patel underlines that unlike the BJP, the Congress party doesn’t discriminate between different communities and even the marginalised sections are aware of this fact. She was commenting on a question related to the deteriorating situation and political neglect of the members of SC, ST and OBC communities. “The Congress party is democratic. We don’t discriminate like the BJP. The sections of society which had faced oppression under the Modi government will definitely side with us during these elections,” she says.
Patel also claims that the business community will cast their vote against the saffron party because they are facing a crisis due to GST. “I have met the business community and they are distressed. I have assured them that the Congress party will listen to their demands if we come to power this time,” she says.
Ghanshyam Shah, a leading political scientist on Gujarat, however, believes that Patel’s assertion might not be true in Ahmedabad’s case. “As the business community is not satisfied with the Modi government’s performance, there is a possibility that many businessmen in Ahmedabad won’t cast their votes. But, they won’t press NOTA even, as they are not very politically conscious in that sense,” Shah says.
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) Director Sanjay Kumar pointed out that a lower voter turnout is a disadvantage for the BJP. The voters of the BJP are more committed than the supporters of the grand old party. He has arrived at this conclusion by analysing nationwide studies at the macro level and meeting voters who have travelled more than 500 kilometres to vote in favour of Prime Minister Modi on the ground. In the first phase of this election, a low voter turnout was recorded in Bihar (50%), Maharashtra (55.97%), Andhra Pradesh (66%), Arunachal Pradesh (66%) and Lakshadweep (66%).
A study of the voting pattern of Gujarat shows that urban voters have always supported the BJP. For instance, the party improved its vote share by two percentage points during the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections compared to 2012, majorly due to winning Surat, Ahmedabad and other urban constituencies by a margin of 30,000-70,000 votes, journalist Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta wrote. Now, the fact that urban voters are expressing their discontent against the BJP, means that the party has reasons to worry.
Ahmedabad-based businessman and former chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Zafar Sareshwala, who had campaigned for the BJP during the previous elections agrees that demonetisation, GST and farm distress are important poll issues. “Yes. There’s slowdown due to GST and demonetisation and no new projects have been started. But, the Opposition is very weak too. Everyone is asking what is the alternative,” he says. He claims that Rafale won’t have much impact as nothing “concrete” has come out and the general public is more bothered about issues related to the economy and farmers.
Sareshwala suggests that the BJP will be the single largest party while they might get considerably less seats than what the party leadership is expecting. “The President will only call the single largest party. I don’t think any party in the country follows any ideology. From the National Conference to DMK and even Mamata didi (Trinamool) has aligned with the BJP in the past. Considering the present situation, I think they will support the BJP again if the need arises.I think the BJP will be the single largest party, even if they get lesser seats than expected by party leadership,” he says.
*Some names have been changed on request