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Gujarat’s ceramic city likes Modi, but hates his economic policies

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Note ban and GST have dampened Morbi’s ceramic business, while the Patel quota agitation has got the community to rally against BJP.

Morbi, Gujarat: The Patidar agitation, impacts of demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as well as PM Narendra Modi’s personal popularity — these are the three topics that the traders in the ceramic city of Morbi, Gujarat, are discussing these days.

Tucked away in the Saurashtra region, Morbi district is representative of the several odds the BJP, which has been ruling Gujarat for the past 22 years, has to battle in the upcoming assembly election.

The BJP-led central government’s policies such as demonetisation and the GST have dampened business in Morbi’s famous ceramic industry, while the Patel quota agitation has got the community, which is electorally significant here, to rally against the party.

The ceramic industry in Morbi accounts for more than 80 per cent of total ceramic production in India, with an annual turnover of around Rs 25,000 crore.

Jayesh Ajana and Mahendra Patel, partners in their ceramic tiles business, draw the battle lines. While both admit demonetisation and GST did impact their business, Ajana says they are not enough of a factor to make him vote against the BJP. Patel, however, wants to see a Congress government in the state, mainly because he is from the protesting Patidar community.

“Initially, demonetisation did eat into our business, as did GST. However, things are fine now. These factors will not make me vote against the BJP,” Ajana told ThePrint.

His partner, however, has a different political view. “Both demonetisation and GST affected our business. So they will impact the election a little bit, even if not too much. But as a Patidar, I want the Congress to come to power. The Patel agitation is a big election issue here,” said Mahendra Patel.

Morbi district has three assembly constituencies — Morbi, Tankara and Wankaner, of which the first two have sitting MLAs from the BJP while Wankaner has a Congress legislator. In 2012, Morbi was a closely contested battle with the BJP candidate winning by a wafer thin margin of 2,700 votes.

The Saurashtra region accounts for 58 of the state’s 182 assembly seats and has been the BJP’s backbone in Gujarat.

Despite businesses being hit by the note ban and GST, the Patidar rebellion seems to be the common refrain here. Morbi district has a significant population of Kadva Patels, the sub-caste to which Patidar leader Hardik Patel belongs.

“I want the Congress to come to power. We are angry with the BJP because of the Patidar agitation. However, there is no anger over demonetisation and GST even though they have caused some problems,” said Bhavesh Patel, owner of Patel Cement Traders.

Despite such negative perceptions about the BJP, PM Modi continues to remain popular among the people here. “If there are Lok Sabha elections today, we will vote for Modiji to become PM. His image and work are very good. But in the state, we want to teach the BJP a lesson for treating the community this way,” said Narendra Patel, another ceramic industry.

It is this goodwill for PM Modi in Gujarat that has perhaps insulated his party from the aftershocks of demonetisation and GST.

“Both these obviously impacted our business, which initially went down by around 20 per cent. However, things have improved, particularly with the ceramic sector being lowered from the 28 per cent GST slab to 18 per cent. None of these would have any impact on the elections and I am 110 per cent sure that the BJP will win,” said Bharat Kamariya, director of Feona Ceramic Factory.

“People are educated enough to understand that these policies were needed. In fact, it is because of Modiji that the ceramic export from Morbi went up. What might be an issue for the BJP here is the Patidar problem,” he added.

There are others who seem to be in a mood for change. Nayan Ambani, 27, who designs ceramic tiles, said the “Congress must get a chance now since BJP has ruled for over 20 years”.

He, however, was quick to add, “I have no objection to Modiji, but want that Congress should get a chance, especially because demonetisation and GST both hit the ceramic industry very hard.”

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