It is around 11 PM. While one might expect campaigning to have ended and the candidates to get down to the brain-storming sessions with their core teams for the strategy to be adopted the next day, the scenario is very different in Varachha constituency of Surat.
It is time for the locals to head to the offices set up by the contestants for their post-dinner 'nashta' and indulge in heated debates on how the campaign is going. The candidates also turn up around this time in their offices to be greeted by their supporters and campaigners in hundreds.
In fact, ask any Surti who is a bit politically aware of the nerve centre of politics in Surat and he would ask you to head to Varachha, particularly in the evening.
The constituency has been known 'NASA' land for quite some time with the residents, mainly the Patidars from Saurashtra, having earned the name of 'Rockets'. The name has been given to them to honour their guts for taking risks, whether in business or otherwise and they seem to justify the 'Risk theory of profit' that was given by FB Hawley way back in 1893.
On a lighter vein, they are often teased for the herd mentality by their friends who often draw comparisons with 'misguided' missiles.
Having supported the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the last more than two decades, these 'missiles' today stand aimed at the party. The sitting BJP MLA Kumar Kanani is facing a stiff challenge from the Congress candidate Dhiru Gajera who has been a BJP MLA in the past.
A visit to the area during the post-dinner 'nashta' time gives one a feel of the electric political atmosphere that is prevailing. As the people enjoy their snacks with the menu changing on daily basis, what is on display is the many facets of politics on this Patidar turf.
The candidates have converted their huge party office premises into free wi-fi zones and this is the place where the social media games are played as audio and video clips doing the rounds across the state are downloaded and shared.
After the rounds of 'nashta' are over and the serious supporters are left with the crowds having disbursed, the rounds of discussions begin. The state and the local scenario is debated in detail and the issues to be played up in the days to come are identified. In between calls are made to the punters in the 'Satta' market to get the pulse.
“The Satta market provides you the exact pulse of what is going on. The current rate of betting is an indication of which way the wind is blowing,” pointed out one of the poll strategists in one of the camps to this reporter.
One can also come across people who have placed bets on the number of seats each party is expected to win and these bets are on for lakhs of rupees.
While the BJP is campaigning on the issue of 'Vikas' (development) and the Congress calling for 'Navsarjan' (revival), it is the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) led by the youth leader Hardik Patel that has added a lot of spice to the campaign.
An interesting aspect of the scenario that is prevailing is that while the PAAS is supporting the Congress for teaching a lesson to the BJP for not adhering to the Patidar demand for reservation in jobs and higher education institutions, it is actually functioning as an independent third force that is allied to the Congress.
“The PAAS activists interact with the Congress members but they are campaigning totally as a separate entity. Their members are going from door to door requesting the people to defeat the BJP. They organise separate events that have nothing to do with the Congress. One of the reasons for doing this is to detour the Election Commission guidelines on poll expenditure. If Hardik or PAAS campaigns on the Congress platform, the expenses get included in the Congress candidates' expenditure. The BJP has already raised the question about Hardik's events that have been held in the area,” said a senior political observer.
“Till the previous polls, the Congress supporters could not even set up their desks on the day of the polling. Their campaign used to be lacklustre. But the Patidar agitation saw the party winning a large number of seats in the local civic body polls and this time around the scenario is completely different,” says senior political analyst Harish Gurjar.
The discussions and debate continue well past midnight. The evening is not over unless some jokes are cracked and this time around the jokes are on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, something the BJP supporters are unable to counter.
Just as a Congress worker was talking about going to an event to be addressed by former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh early in the morning, one of the merchants said, “We have lost the habit of getting up early in the morning. The fall in the business following the demonetisation and the poor implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) has made us realise the futility of getting up early because there is no work even if we open our establishments in time. If things continue the way they are we would soon be waking up at 2 PM in the afternoon.”
Varachha is the diamond cutting and polishing hub of Surat. It is an area that has the reputation of not lying low on issues. This is the zone from where the Patidar agitation had taken off in 2015. In fact, Dhiru Gajera while being a BJP MLA was the one who had raised the banner of revolt against Modi on the treatment being meted out to the Patidar patriarch Keshubhai Patel after he was removed as the chief minister.
Hardik's Sunday rally in the area drew a huge crowd.
This time the show is in the epicentre of the Patidar movement and it has surely made the BJP restless. The BJP will have to retain this bastion otherwise an adverse result here is surely going to spiral into a tornado.