As Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed his campaign for Gujarat into top gear on Monday, he placed Surat high on his itinerary. Before it votes on December 9, he is expected to revisit the city next week.
As the commercial capital of Gujarat, Surat has always been high-maintenance for politicians. But in this election, when it is seen as reviewing its steadfast loyalty to the BJP, its political intensity has peaked.
The second-largest city in the PM’s home state after Ahmedabad, embodies core Gujarati values – of trade and enterprise, of immigrants elbowing their way in to claim a stake of the bustling commerce, of staunch Hinduism, of diamonds and textiles creating dramatic fortunes like the tycoon who three years ago gifted his employees with apartments and cars for Diwali.
Since 2002, the BJP has won every single one of the 16 assembly seats in the Surat district. But in the 2015 municipal election, the Congress more than doubled its seats (the BJP though won the corporation easily).
It wasn’t the Congress that did the hard work. The corporation in Surat was elected months after Hardik Patel, then just 22, delivered impassioned speeches at public parks and stadiums packed with other young Patels like himself. He had one demand – the community must benefit from affirmative action policies. Prime Minister Modi and his famous Gujarat Model of Development, he alleged, had not created jobs. When other castes were guaranteed government positions and seats in colleges, why not the Patels, who make up 14% of Gujarat’s population, he asked.