Politics is one subject that provokes intense debates and if it is politics in Gujarat, even more so. You can see that happening whether you are at a tea stall or travelling in a train – as I was this week. I got a glimpse of such debates soon after I boarded the August Kranti Rajdhani train for Bharuch, between Vadodara and Surat, from the Nizamuddin railway station in New Delhi on Wednesday. My fellow passengers were mostly Gujarati middle-class businessmen who visit New Delhi for business purposes.
“Where are you going?” A curious young man asked me. My immediate response was that I was going to Gujarat to assess the mood of the people about the assembly elections in December. “So you are a journalist,” he surmised with a finality that left no scope for me to tell him about my job. His father joined in and declared with an equal ease, "Nobody can defeat Narendra Modi." My curiosity got better of my know-all journalistic approach and prompted me ask the source of his confidence. "How can you predict the outcome of a poll which is still one and a half month away?" Unfazed, the older man responded, "Tell me the alternative."
His response summed up the dilemma of the Gujarati middle class which seems politically conscious of its choices as well as predicament. It is nobody's case that Modi is the best thing to have happened to Gujarat. But they are also not ready to buy the argument that Modi's performance is a chimera.
Continuing the debate the father-son duo who own a tobacco supply unit in Vadodara maintained that they had benefited from development. Coming from the Patel community, they own a large tract of land near Vadodara and found that agriculture had become the most rewarding business in the state. "This year I have sown banana saplings in my farm land," the father said, adding that bananas have become the most profitable cash crop in the region because of availability and access to national markets. The younger Patel pointed out that the immediate fallout of these activities is the escalation in prices of the land in Vadodara. "The land that we owned was not so lucrative only a decade back but now it is a priceless possession," he pointed out.
Significantly, the older Patel was particularly appreciative of the new agriculture practices introduced in the state which turned farming into the most lucrative profession. He pointed out that the state had given him subsidy and technical education for introducing drip irrigation which has substantially enhance the efficacy of irrigation and yield per acre. Similarly good varieties of seeds are available to farmers.
After doing his BBA degree from a private institute in Vadodara, the younger Patel found joining his father’s business a better proposition than looking for a job. "I am quite happy and growing in my family business," he said.
Of course, the argument for development has its flip side as it was evident in quick conversation during the journey. The father-son duo were quite worried about the development paradigm which made cheap labour scarce in Gujarat. They pointed out that because of the industrialisation, the workforce was not available at the same rate as before. "We do face a shortage of workers in our units," they said.
The talk turned to corruption, the most talked-about issue these days. Is there less corruption in Gujarat compared to the past? The question took the discussion to a different tangent. "Of course not. Corruption has increased phenomenally and bureaucracy does not do anything unless its palms are greased," he lamented. "Yet they do things out of fear of the political leadership which takes up many projects round the year to give spur to development," he said.
“Ideally we would certainly like to have a government which promotes business and maintains utmost honesty. If Modi does not qualify to these yardsticks, tell me is there any other suitable candidate? Can it be Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh at the national level or Bharatsinh Solanki, Arjun Modhwadia or Shaktisinh Gohil at the state level?” he asked by way of inquisition intended to put me in dock. But once again, he declared with a sense of omniscience of a conscious voter, "At least for now, we are getting development and governance under Modi while the rest of them would only promote corruption." That was his summing up of the political situation before we decided to end the conversation and go for the sleep as the train was scheduled to reach early morning in Bharuch.