Botad city, 92 km from from Bhavnagar and 133 km from Ahmedabad, is certainly a bad example of Brand Modi’s claim of development in ‘Model’ Gujarat. Despite electing ruling party BJP representatives, the area has been struggling for basic amenities like sanitation, roads, drinking water, education and better health facilities.
A visit to the Mandit Gate chowraha (square), now renamed after RSS leader Deen Dyal Upadhdhyay, is enough to reveal the reality of the ruling party’s tall claims of development and love for cow, rivers and sanitation programme.
The small creek filled with wastes (see photo) is actually Utavali river that flows right through the middle of the town. Interestingly, the district headquarters of the saffron party stands tall on the bank of the river with big hoarding atop showing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been the face of Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, along with BJP President Amit Shah and Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
There is strong anti-incumbency against the BJP, which has been ruling the state for over two decades. People in the constituency complain that the party has failed the electorate here despite repeatedly giving them many chances.
“We have to face problems of clean drinking water, sanitation, broken roads, health facilities and education. Heaps of garbage dumps are common sight here. The river has been turned into drain, filled with garbage. The condition of roads is extremely pathetic in Botad constituency. Narrow lanes create traffic snarls everyday during peak hours. Ironically, the situation has been same for the past 20 years and therefore, people are extremely unhappy with the ruling party. We now want a change,” Jitendra Chouhan, a Dalit and local priest in Botad, told Newclick.
Botad district, according to locals, has only one government hospital, which is equipped only as a primary health centre. “Only three doctors are appointed in the hospital and all of them are general physicians. There is no lady doctor. The district has a government high school and two colleges – one for boys and another for girls. There is no technical institution run by the government,” complained Dilipbhai Jairambhai Sabva, who has pledged to ensure BJP’s defeat.
Unable to handle people’s resentment and emergence of three youth leaders, he said, the BJP is now playing an emotional card and trying to project this election as the issue of Gujarat’s and Modi’s asmita (pride). “But we won’t let this trick work,” he said.
Asked if they think that the Congress will be able to resolve all their issues if given a chance, he said, “It is not an election of BJP vs Congress. It is an election between 6 crore people of Gujarat and the BJP. All of us have been betrayed.”
Asked why it took 22 years for the anti-incumbency to come to the fore, another man, who has a government job and did not want to be identified, alleged “fear politics rules the roost in Gujarat”.
“Gujarat means business and no business person ever wants to fight with the government. The business community here is threatened with abuse of power. They cannot afford to vote in favour of an opposition party because they feel that if it failed to form government, the ruling party will target them. The government will use its agencies such as Income Tax, Sales Tax, labour departments etc., to harass them. Voices are being raised against the BJP in this election because people feel that the Congress party has got strength by aligning with Hardik, Jignesh and Alpesh who have demolished the party’s vote bank and caste equations. They feel that the Congress is in position to form government here. As soon as they found a strong alternative, they have begun voicing their discontent against the ruling party,” he alleged.
Botad is a Patel dominated seat and the BJP is facing heat from this influential community in Gujarat. There is an apparent rise in anger amongst Patidar youths against the government for not meeting the reservation demands of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel. The saffron party has tasked several community leaders to counter the Patidar challenge. In Botad, the party has pinned its hopes on Saurabh Patel, a Cabinet Minister in the Vijay Rupani-led state government, with several important portfolios.
Saurabh, brother in law of Ambanis, had represented the constituency thrice before shifting to Akota Assembly seat in 2012. This time, the BJP has dropped its sitting MLA Maniya Thakarshibhai Devjibhai – a leader who had won the seat with 86,184 votes in 2012 assembly polls.
Considered to be party’s urban face, Saurabh Patel was once considered a successor to PM Narendra Modi and then to Anandiben Patel in the state. He, however, has stayed away from the limelight since the elevation of Vijay Rupani as the chief minister. In 2012, Saurabh was elected an MLA from Akota.
Aiming to pose a strong challenge to the BJP heavyweight, Congress too replaced its nominee on the Botad seat bringing in DM Patel, the district Congress president to replace Manhar Patel.