Phase-III of the 2019 general elections will commence on 23 April and will see 26 Lok Sabha seats from Gujarat heading for polls. The BJP had swept all 26 seats in the 2014 elections, but its highly unlikely that the saffron party will manage to repeat this feat.
There is a growing unrest in rural Gujarat, especially in the Saurashtra belt where farmers are openly calling for the ouster of the BJP. Still the BJP is expected to win nearly 18-19 seats in the state, thanks to its vote bank in urban Gujarat.
Amreli is one constituency where the political pundits are calling the seat for the Congress. However, on the ground, the poll is split between rural and urban voters of the constituency, who believe that both the BJP and the Congress are placed evenly.
Between 1991 and 2014, the BJP has lost the seat only once (in 2004). The party has repeated two-time MP from Amreli, Naran Kachadia, and the Congress has issued the ticket to the leader of opposition in Gujarat Assembly and MLA of Amreli Assembly seat, Paresh Dhanani.
On the Campaign Trail
On 12 April, the BJP organised a rally in Jaffrabad, Amreli, where CM Vijay Rupani gave a rousing speech to garner votes for Kachadia.
Breeze from the Arabian sea offered the only respite for nearby villagers and townsmen of Jaffrabad, as CM Rupani raged on about national security, Pulwama terror attack, Balakot air strikes and subsequent dogfights between Indian Air Force (IAF) and Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
“Congress asks for proof for airstrike and surgical strike. They speak the language of Pakistan. I want to tell the Congress – forget us, for 10 years when Manmohan Singh was the PM, this country endured several attacks,”Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani
Unsurprisingly, Rupani failed to talk about the development on the ground, especially road infrastructure, health care, Narmada canal and the MSP promised to cotton and groundnut farmers.
Meanwhile, Paresh Dhanani was hopping from one panchayat taluka to another in Rajula tehsil of Amreli district. He held meeting with the villagers and farmers living in each panchayat; however, the Congress leader could not manage to raise the same crowds as the BJP.
Yet, Dhanani was keen on talking about the various promises made in the Congress manifesto.
“Every month, Rs 6,000 (Rs 72,000 per year) the Congress government will deposit from Delhi directly in your account, so that you can eat your bread at home with pride.”Paresh Dhanani, Leader of Opposition, Gujarat Assembly
Development of Amreli a Key Issue
The Quint spoke with Kachadia, who agreed that among other districts in Saurashtra, Amreli was quite backward. But he was quick to shift the blame on the Congress for Amreli’s current state of affairs.
“I became MP first in 2009, when UPA II was in power. Under the UPA regime, it was nearly impossible to get any work done in Amreli, as the state was ruled by Narendra (Modi) bhai. This equation changed after 2014, when Narendra bhai became the PM and we have seen a lot of development work in the region,” Kachadia said.
Kachadia claims that Modi government has been kind to the natives of Amreli, as he sat down to count the various sops and funds the region has received.
“Amreli is now connected to the national highway as we got Rs 9,000 crore from the Centre. We didn’t have a broad-gauge railway line for which we received Rs 2,400 crore. There were no Kendriya Vidyalayas here, which were later started under the current government. There was no passport office in Amreli, which too was started under the current regime. Now we have better mobile connectivity here as BSNL has installed several towers across the district,”Naran Kachadia, BJP MP from Amreli
“Development work takes time and based on the work I’ve done so far, I am sure that the residents of Amreli will bring me back to the Lok Sabha,” he further added.
‘A Weak BJP is Trying to Weaken Congress’
Speaking with The Quint during his village to village campaigning, Dhanani stressed that the election is about a clash of ideologies.
“The BJP has significantly weakened its position in Gujarat since the 2017 Assembly election. They have no other option but to poach our MLAs to push their numbers up. This contest is not against a person, but against an ideology. On one hand, you have the Congress, which aims to unify different castes, languages and ideologies. On the other hand, you have the BJP, which wants to divide people on the basis of caste, language, religion and region for their nationalistic ambitions.”Paresh Dhanani, Leader of Opposition, Gujarat Assembly & MLA from Amreli
However, Dhanani too was quick to flip the question to the BJP when asked about the Congress’ weak position in urban Gujarat as he started counting the failed promises made by the saffron party in the last decade.
“Gujarat’s ‘chowkidar’ sat on the throne in Delhi and made several false promises, and couldn’t fulfil a single promise. Surat was to become Singapore; instead of becoming Singapore, Surat became badsurat (ugly) under the BJP rule. Where are the promises of building smart cities that India needs?” asked Dhanani.
He further lashed out against the BJP who, according to Dhanani, failed to deliver the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar metro project on time.
“The world’s smallest metro, 6 km long with three carriages, was built after 15 years. When will an Amdavadi reach Gandhinagar on a metro? Gujarat needs answers. There are many such questions to which the BJP has no answers.”Paresh Dhanani, Leader of Opposition, Gujarat Assembly & MLA from Amreli
Locals in Amreli Claim Both Parties have 50-50 of Winning
As mentioned earlier, Amerli is one of the poorest districts in the Saurashtra belt of Gujarat. The locals here are overjoyed when the most basic infrastructure requirements of the town are addressed.
Speaking to The Quint, the locals shared who they believe has a chance of coming to power this general elections.
“The BJP will deliver. You see this road, it was build two days back. The road infrastructure in the district has been pathetic for several years. Not just roads, none of the big companies come to our district to set up shop. But I believe things will improve soon, with the BJP winning the seat here again,” said a student who The Quint spoke to.
Local Shailesh Dhanani, who sells agro-products to farmers, believes the rural voter will side with Congress’ Dhanani.
“Amreli district runs on agriculture. The farmers are angry with the BJP, because the farmers’ woes have worsened over time. Farmers believe that if the Congress comes to power, they will work for the farmers. In the city, the development work done here, such as roads and water connections, will help the BJP. In the city, people say that only the BJP will bring development.”Shailesh Dhanani, Runs Agro Business in Amreli town
Shailesh Dhanani further added, “We need a strong leader who prioritises Amreli and takes us forward. We need lot of development and people’s expectations are high, but no one pays attention to it.”
Amreli takes centre stage on 23 April when the state goes to vote. Both candidates hold heavy clout in their respective domains which makes Amreli a close contest between the Indian Grand Old Party and the BJP, though political pundits believe that Paresh Dhanani has an upper hand.