Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the first of four Gujarat rallies today in the crucial town of Morbi. As he landed in his helicopter, the crowd chanted his name.
Located in the heart of Saurashtra, Morbi, a hub of ceramic-tile makers, is seen as an influencer for the surrounding areas which have a strong affiliation with the BJP. But this is also one of the epicenters of the big agitation led by Hardik Patel against the ruling party and today, the 24-year-old held his own public meeting in Morbi.
“In good times and bad, we have stood with Morbi,” the PM said, “The same cannot be said of the Congress.” He said Morbi is typical of the famous Gujarat model that he is credited with developing during his 13 years as Chief Minister. “The main issue in Kutch and Saurashtra when we came to power was water shortage,” he said. “For the Congress, ‘development’ was giving hand pumps. For BJP, it is large irrigation schemes and large pipelines that carry Narmada water.”
Continuing his claim that the opposition Congress is anti-Gujarat, the PM said, “When Indira-ben came to Morbi, she held a handkerchief to her nose against a foul smell.”
The larger Morbi region has three of Gujarat’s 182 assembly seats. Two are with the BJP and one with the Congress. How the party performs here will be seen as a test of the newly-introduced GST or national sales tax, which angered lakhs of small traders, the sort that Morbi is filled with. Morbi has an annual turnover of 25,000 crores; it employs about 10 lakh people. The BJP’s result here will also be used by the party to map its strategy in the area for the next general election, now less than two years away.
A usually-staid government circuit house in Rajkot, about 70 kms from the venue of this morning’s rally, turned into a thrumming office for the PM; he spent the night there. Officials said hotlines and broadband were organized for his staff.
Today, he will address four rallies – three in Saurashtra and one in Surat.
Both are strongholds of the Patels, the powerful and once-prosperous community that supported the BJP for more than two decades but is now being asked by fiery 24-year-old Hardik Patel to change its stand and vote for the Congress. Two years ago, he launched a huge movement, which quickly drew young Patel men like himself who say the community must be included in castes that get the benefits of affirmative action policies. Hardik Patel is urging his caste to back the Congress because he says it has made a suitable offer on a reservation in government jobs and state-run colleges for the Patels. Older Patels or Patidars seem less enthusiastic about changing sides to the Congress than the youth of the community.