Gujarat: Demonetisation plays out as key narrative in Sardar Patel's karambhoomi of Bardoli
Bardoli, in southern Gujarat, has a rich history of struggling against the powers in charge. Famous for the Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928 that was one of the major turning points in the freedom struggle, the place is a now a paradox of sorts and is now famous for being home to countless non-resident Indians NRIs and the affluent Patidars of south Gujarat who have not had much to with the ongoing struggle for reservation.
But even Bardoli's populace has not been left unscathed by the damage done by demonetisation and the poor implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was initiated by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre.
An unhappy lot
“I still cannot overcome the trauma that I had to undergo on 8 November last year. My daughter's wedding was the next day and we had to curtail the ceremonies drastically. We were unable to treat our guest who had come from the US in a proper manner," says Neelam Patel, a housewife who is now supporting the Congress.
Neelam's friend also shared her experience. "I was in Bangkok on the day. My main worry was that there was Rs 40 lakh in cash in my locker that had to be taken care of. It took me days to deal with the issue.”
Jayaben Sapariya has also decided to give his vote to Congress' Tarunsinh Vaghela in his fight against the sitting BJP MLA Ishwarbhai Parmar for the seat reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates.
“I am an agent with the Department of Posts for small savings scheme for women. I had collected double the monthly premium from my clients knowing that I could change the old currency notes of the denomination of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 till 31 December as had been announced. But the continuing changes in the dates and norms by the government made it tough. I also incurred losses,” he says.
The Patels too are an agitated lot. They may not be keen to join the agitation for reservation for the Patidars, but several issues have annoyed the community. One is the much-hyped 'Bullet Train' that the Modi government is pushing for between Ahmedabad and Mumbai.
“They do not realise the amount of damage they would do by cutting lakhs of trees of fruits like mango and chikoo. They claim that only a few thousand would be cut, but according to our estimates, the number would be no less than seven lakh trees. We cannot afford to pay such a huge price for a whimsical project,” said one of the horticulturists from the area.
Bardoli is known for its rich harvest of sugarcane, Hafooz mango and chikoo. The latter are exported in large quantities.
The people are agitated over the increasing instances of petty crime, rampant corruption and administrative lapses. The minorities are also talking about frequent attempts by the right wing Hindu groups to foment communal trouble at almost every festival, particularly the Ganesha immersion.
It is amid this scenario that Ishwarbhai is saddled with the task of retaining this seat. His detractors among the locals are questioning his affluence as they remember him as an ordinary employee of a local sugar mill who has now moved on to supplying construction material. The Congress candidate on the other hand is remembered as a person who used to transport children to school in his van.
The magic of development is BJP's central strategy in the area. Dr Kaushal Patel, who has given up his Ayurveda practice to campaign full time for the party before heading back to the US, spoke of the number of bridges the BJP candidate had built during his tenure.
“There has been development all around. Ishwarbhai recently got Rs 18 crore approved for building a Sardar Smarak here. He is personally paying insurance premium of the tribal electorate. He has donated an air conditioned ambulance to the charitable Sardar Hospital. Along with implements for the ophthalmology department,” he said.
He also claimed that the malnutrition among the tribals, particularly the women and children, is no longer an issue of concern because the government has started schemes to take care of the needs of pregnant women and the children enrolled in schools. But he was unable to elaborate on the causes of this malnutrition.
It will be a close contest.