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Mehsana reflects the Gujarat challenge



India December 07(IM): Mehsana: Mehsana is 60 km away from Gujarat's capital Gandhinagar but voters here claim their voting preference determines who gets to rule the state.Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hometown of Vadnagar is also part of the politically-crucial Mehsana district in North Gujarat that has seven Assembly seats.In the 2012 Assembly elections, the BJP had won five of them. But in recent times, Mehsana is referred to as the starting point of the Patidar agitation led by Hardik Patel.Apart from the politically-dominant Patidars, Mehsana district, that has a population of over two million, also has Kshatriyas, Muslims and Dalits (the last three groups are identified as traditional Congress voters as part of KHAM: Kshatriyas, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim).The Congress is hoping to cash in on Hardik Patel’s popularity, especially wooing the younger generation, to break into what has been a BJP stronghold.“If Hardik had even floated something of his own, he would have had the full support of our society. But by supporting the Congress, he has betrayed the cause. We will all vote for the BJP,” says Babubhai Patel, a former sarpanch of Ramossana village bordering Mehsana city.He, however, admits that Hardik continues to be popular among the youth and will impact the BJP’s Patel votebank. “My 35-year-old son Mehul, is a Hardik supporter and will vote against our party,” he says.In Mehsana city, Gujarat’s Deputy Chief Minister Nitinbhai Patel is pitted against Congress’ Jivabhai Patel, who was the local MP in 2004, signalling the challenge the Congress is trying to put up.“Nitin Patel is a very good person but I will vote for Congress this time. Just see how expensive food items have become,” says Hitesh Patel, a farmer who is engaged in supplying milk to a local dairy that, in turn, feeds the Dudhsagar Milk Plant in Mehsana.Apart from dairy farming, Mehsana also is well known for spices for spices like jeera (cumin seeds) and sounf (fennel seeds), among others.At the Unjha wholesale market, touted as Asia's biggest mandi for cumin and fennel seeds, traders are happy to discuss elections, including the impact of GST and demonetisation.“The anger over note ban is not there any more. When it happened, it impacted us for a few months but that's behind us. Even GST has been made simpler but the issue of exporters not getting GST refund is still there but it will be resolved soon,” says Sitaram Patel, who heads the Unjha Market Vyapari Mandal.His confidence stems from the fact that the Centre sent two teams to the Unjha Agricultural Produce Market Committee to study the impact of GST on farmers. The rural economy in these parts of Mehsana sustain on growing spices, a lot of which is exported too.Vikrambhai Rawal, a farmer from a neighbouring village is at the mandi to clear his remaing stock of cumin that is selling at ₹3800 per 20 kg. “The main issue is development and elections will be decided on that,” says the farmer but he does not reveal the party of his choice.

At Mehu village, about 20 km from Mehsana, Ranjitsinh Barot, who belong to the Darbar caste or a sub-caste of Kshatriyas, talks about a close fight, especially since Alpesh Thakore joined the Congress.“We can't say what will finally happen but right now both parties are 50-50,” says the farmer with a smile.

SOURCE:THE HINDU

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