Straddling a curious mix of urban and tribal areas, the Congress party’s campaign in the central Gujarat region hinges a lot on its ward-to-ward urban outreach programme for the cities and alleged anti-Adivasi policies of the BJP Government.
And it is an uphill task for the Congress, which could manage to win only 24 out of 62 seats in the Central Gujarat region in the 2017 State Assembly elections, given the BJP’s vice-like grip on the urban areas while the tribal votes stand divided.
There are 10 assembly seats in the Vadodara district, with BJP having won eight seats and leaving 2 for Congress.
Vadodara district president Sagar Brahmbatt told VO! that, “BJP is the only challenge for Congress in Vadodara” and not Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or AIMIM.
As for the Vadodara city, the BJP won 69 out of 76 seats while Congress bagged the remaining seven in the Vadodara Municipal Corporation elections held last year. All the three assembly seats in the city are with the BJP.
Among the issues the Congress is raising in the urban areas of Vadodara are drainage, water, traffic and the environment, which affect the economically backward classes much more than the better off people.
Brahmbhatt pointed out, “There is an increase in cholera cases in Maneja, Navapura, Harijanvaas and Fatehpura areas. The government and health department are neglecting this for years”.
Brahmbatt said while Vadodara was known as the cultural capital of Gujarat, the BJP Government was allowing construction permits to buildings that encroach on rivers, ravines and lakes, thereby increasing the potential for floods and water-logging. Existing buildings, some with great heritage value like Nazarbaug Palace and Shantadevi Hospital, have been demolished.
There are 21 assembly seats in the Ahmedabad district with the ruling BJP having won 15 seats and Congress managed six.
Ahmedabad district president Balvant Gadhvi and vice-president of Gujarat Congress Bimal Shah, who is in charge of Ahmedabad city, told VO! that the urban voters were frustrated with the BJP’s governance due to the high inflation and lack of sustainable development around the city. “Congress has started a ward-to-ward outreach programme, interacting with voters to know their issues. We will address their issues with solutions in our manifesto”, Gadhvi added.
The BJP had won 161 out of 192 seats in the 2021 Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation elections while the Congress bagged 15 and the AIMIM seven seats. AIMIM is a challenge for the Congress as it could cut into the Muslim votes.
Bimal Shah highlighted the civic issues that were not being addressed by the BJP. The traffic growth is increasing with a lack of parking spaces, garbage is dumped randomly and there is also a lack of proper sanitation facilities in the old city and slum areas, according to Shah.
The Congress had organised an urban outreach brainstorming session with the district and city leadership of urban areas, including Ahmedabad, to mobilise urban voters in the December elections.
They believe that the AAP is not a challenge for the Congress. According to Bimal Shah, the BJP was a challenge but is no longer so. Asked about AIMIM, he and Gadhvi said Muslims voters were now aware that the Congress was their only option in Gujarat to end the despotic rule of BJP.
The BJP won two seats in this district with one independent MLA supported by BJP.
Mahisagar district president Sureshbhai Ambalal Patel said, “Ours is an agricultural district with paddy, maize and wheat as key crops. The majority of our farmers are small and marginal farmers with land holding less than two hectares. Farmers here are now in distress due to the collapsing farm prices, while irrigation is affected by drought and absence of modern technology”.
Patel added that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had a negligible presence in the region and it could not connect with the grassroots level issues of the people. “It is the BJP, which is a challenge and this time we will defeat the BJP as people are frustrated with the rise in prices of essential commodities and unable to live a happy life,” he added.
The Congress won five out of seven seats in Anand and BJP got two seats.
Congress’ Anand district president Mahendrasinh H Parmar told VO! that BJP was the only challenge for Congress. “We are focusing more on the Khambhat and Umreth regions. We are organising meetings and interactions with people”, he said.
Parmar said the Congress has also raised the issue of a systematic kidney transplant racket around Anand. Earlier the opposition party had raised this serious issue, but no sustainable action was taken by the government. “Also there is always an atmosphere of violence around Khambat, this shows the failure of home ministry”.
There are seven seats in the Kheda district, with Congress having won four seats and BJP with three seats.
Kheda district President Rajeshbhai M Zala said that BJP is the only challenge for Congress, AAP is not even in the picture.
As the BJP boasts about development, there is no visible development in Kheda. The people of Kheda are frustrated with the hike in prices and the difficulties to live a happy life. “They will vote against the BJP”, he added.
The BJP won four out of five seats in this district and one ST seat by an Independent MLA, Bhupendrasinh Kant who was later disqualified for an invalid caste certificate.
Panchmahal district president Ajitsinh Bhati told VO! that tribal-dominated villages have no water supply. The life of tribals is tough. They don’t even have access to good roads inside the village. The government has built toilets in some houses, not all. Nowadays irregular power supply is also a challenge for them.
He also added that the government is giving more permits to chemical factories around here. The last December there was a blast in one of the chemical factories which caused injury to more than 30 people and seven were dead.
“So in this assembly election campaign Congress will highlight the BJP governance that is corporate-friendly but not people-friendly”, Bhati said.
Dahod & Chhota Udepur
There are six seats in Dahod, with three seats each for Congress and BJP. Notably, five seats are ST reserved.
Dahod district Congress president Harshadbhai Ninama said that in the villages the tribals don’t get water and have dug wells for themselves. However, they would still like to support the BJP and “see Modi come to power”. There is an active presence of right-wing groups in these regions which negatively influence the tribal community.
“Now there is an awareness among tribals that BJP is not Adivasi friendly and they will vote against BJP by supporting Congress in this assembly elections”, Ninama added.
As for the Chhota Udaipur district, Congress bagged two seats and BJP one seat here in the 2017 assembly elections. Here also, all the seats are ST reserved.
“Tribals are in a bad shape here at Chhota Udaipur. Rights and justice are denied to us. Water supply is not available for the Adivasis as the river passes through our area. There is no electricity either. The government writes off the debts of industrialists but does not provide jobs to tribal youth. They have seen through the game,” Chhotaudepur district president Umesh Shah told VO!
Dahod and Chhotaudepur district Presidents confidently told VO! that in the 2022 assembly elections the tribal voters in Gujarat would go with the Congress because it took up their cause and got the Narmada-Tapi river link project stopped.