A journalist friend and I travelled from Ahmedabad to Rajkot, passing through Sanand, Viramgam, Dhrangadhra, Halvad and Morbi, and then returned via Chotila, Limdi, Bavla and Changodar. As we stopped at wayside tea stalls to chat with people—mostly youth, farmers and artisans—we encountered a common theme: everyone we spoke with said they wanted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government removed from power.

A carpenter, walking with the help of crutches, insisted we visit a housing colony at Dhrangadhra in which he had been allotted an apartment seven years ago by former chief minister Anandiben Patel. He said he had paid Rs1,250 as down payment, but has not heard anything from the government since then. The housing colony, barely 2km from the centre of the town, has been lying vacant since its inauguration by Patel on 26 January 2010, when she was minister for revenue, roads and buildings.

None of the 700-odd apartments are occupied. Thick, wild shrubs have sprung up in the compound, while several saplings grow along cracked walls. Even the plaque bearing the names of Anandiben Patel and I.K. Jadeja, another minister in the BJP government then, has been covered by the thick growth.

“What if Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes and promises you possession of the house?” we asked.

“He may come and promise and go away, but nothing will happen,” said the disabled carpenter, who works at a furniture workshop that has lost business following the double-whammy of demonetization and implementation of the goods and services tax (GST).

“I voted for the BJP in the 2012 assembly elections only because the charismatic personality of Modi saheb gave us hope of all-round, all-inclusive development. Instead, we got rampant corruption and joblessness. Policemen visit my tea shop regularly to eat snacks and drink tea—all for free,” said one tea vendor, who belongs to the pastoral Rabari community, whose main occupation is raising cows and buffaloes.

In Surendranagar, which is known for its cotton cultivation, we saw a small crowd gathering around cart at the entrance to a village in Halvad taluka. Seeing us—two strangers—alight from the car, the villagers gave us an enquiring look. Our arrival disrupts the sales shouts from the cart of the bed-sheet vendor, who travels from village to village.

“We are journalists from Delhi and Ahmedabad,” we told them. Some in the crowd found the face of the Delhi journalist familiar as he is often seen on TV debates.

“Never have we seen such poverty. The marriage season is approaching and we have no money. Our stock of cotton is lying unsold. To get the minimum support price of Rs804-854 per 20kg from the government, we have to wait in a long queue. There are already more than 2,000 farmers in queue from our village. The line inches forward by only 25 farmers every day. At this rate, our turn will come after three months. So, we have no option but to sell to private traders at Rs700,” we were told by a farmer from the village, which has a population of around 5,000.

The village sarpanch, a BJP supporter, meanwhile, scooted off on his bike.

From Morbi, the hub of the ceramic industry, all the owners of small, medium and large manufacturing units had gone to Gandhinagar to participate in a three-day exposition. As we reached the town, a Chinese man attired in a business suit was seen leaving the corporate office of a ceramic wall tiles manufacturing plant.

Morbi’s Rs5,000 crore ceramic industry had ground to a halt for a month earlier this year following the imposition of 28 percent GST on the material. Only after the dates for the Gujarat assembly elections were announced was the GST rate slashed to 18 percent.

“Who can tell whether the government will raise the GST rates again after the Gujarat elections are over? The ‘Moody’ government can revise the GST rate upwards whatever the outcome of the elections. Win or lose, the BJP government at the Centre can increase the GST rates only to reduce them before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls,” said an executive officer at a large ceramics unit.

As much as 99 percent of the ceramic units in Morbi are owned by Patidars, who have invested between Rs50 lakh and Rs20 crore each to set up the manufacturing plants. The workers at these plants are mostly migrants from Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and other states; only the administrative staff are locals.

We met two young men at a tea stall on the outskirts of Morbi, both locals but from non-Patidar castes.

“Morbi district, besides the ceramic industry, is known for cultivation of groundnut. Farmland owners are mostly Patidars who have banned the entry of BJP workers in their villages,” said one of the young men.

The driver of a heavy earth mover parked nearby was a Patel youth from Amreli district. His sister was married in a village in Morbi. “This time, we are going to vote the BJP government out of power,” he said.

In our pre-poll survey tour, we did not come across a single person who supported the BJP. This was in stark contrast to the last assembly elections held in 2012, when BJP supporters would pounce on you if you dared to criticize then chief minister Narendra Modi.

One thing that perplexed us the most was that though the people are disenchanted with the BJP and said they will vote against the party this time, they all said the same thing: The BJP will form the government come what may, by hook or by crook.

Nachiketa Desai is a senior journalist based in Ahmedabad and tweets at @nachiketadesai. The views expressed are his own.

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