While a section of youngsters throws its weight behind BJP for its ‘good work’ in education and infrastructure, Patidars prefer Congress.
Rajkot, Gujarat: In the well laid-out campus of the Atmiya Institute of Technology & Science in Rajkot, young MBA students are just finishing with their classes. Most of them are going to vote for the first time in next month’s Gujarat assembly elections and have their political preferences clearly chalked out.
With a show of hands, seven of the nine voters say they want the BJP to come back to power. Reason: PM Narendra Modi’s “track record”, BJP’s work in areas such as infrastructure and education as well as its attempts to weed out black money through measures like demonetisation.
Most say all they have seen in the state is BJP rule and have no recollection of the Congress in power, while they recall the floundering years of UPA 2 at the Centre. The two who support the Congress say they do so because the BJP’s policy decisions such as GST and note ban have inconvenienced the common man.
A little further away from their classroom, Ami Ghiya, a third-year student who lives in Gondal, is waiting outside the principal’s office. She had voted in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and this is the second election she will be exercising her franchise.
“I support Modiji and the BJP. Their initiatives such as the cleanliness drive, demonetisation as well as other policy decisions for the state and country’s development are what attract me the most,” Ghiya said.
In the P.D. Malaviya College of Commerce, there is little activity on the campus with most students in their classrooms busy writing exams. Hardik Solanki and Virendra Mori, however, are outside and talking excitedly about the forthcoming election.
“The BJP has done good work. We have good roads, electricity, good education facilities and infrastructure. Employment is a bit of a problem but all this takes time,” said Solanki, adding “Modi is a very good leader”.
Asked about Rahul Gandhi, he said nonchalantly, “I don’t know about him; he comes only before elections and then disappears.”
Even their college-mate Rashmi Kukadiya feels strongly that the BJP should form the government in the state.
The first-time voters are an important constituency that both the Congress and the BJP would want to tap into. According to latest estimates, reported by ThePrint last week, 60 per cent of the 4.03 crore voters in Gujarat are under 40. Of these, 12 lakh (18-19 years) are new and first-time voters, Election Commission data shows. In the 18-21 age-group, there are 29.72 lakh voters.
Alpa Boricha, a third-year student pursuing Bachelor of Social Work in KNS Kansagra Mahila College, also appreciates Modi’s work for the youth and “women empowerment”. Shivani Asra of the nearby MVM Science and Home Science College supports BJP for its record in initiating “women-centric policies”.
However, everything does not seem to be hunky-dory for the BJP with the Congress emerging as the preferred choice among the electorally influential Patidar community, which has been agitating over the issue of reservations.
In Rajkot West alone, chief minister Vijay Rupani’s constituency, around 75,000 of the 3 lakh-odd registered voters are Patels — around 42,000 Kadwa Patels and 33,000 Leuva Patels.
A group of third-year BSc (Chemistry) students of Christ College, all from the Patidar community, was chatting outside a dhaba next to their college. “Ab ki baar, Congress sarkar”, they say tweaking the BJP slogan that gained traction during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
“We are all from the Patel community. We think reservations should go. We are suffering because of the reservations given to OBCs and other communities.” said Nimesh Amrudiya.
“Besides, BJP’s policies such as demonetisation and GST have harmed everybody. We support Congress,” he added.
His friend Deepak Patel echoed similar sentiments, claiming that all students in their college are supporters of the young Patidar leader, Hardik Patel.
“We are from nearby towns and villages and live in a paying guest accommodation nearby. Most of the students in my college want the BJP out,” he said.
Also read: Talk Point: First-time voters have grown up enjoying fruits of Modi’s vikas-centric governance