Rajkot: The Congress is chiefly banking on the issue of water woes and “incomplete” irrigation projects to make fresh inroads in rural Saurashtra, sensing a feeling of being “left out” among the populace. The opposition party had won 13 out of the 48 Assembly seats in Saurashtra region of Gujarat against the BJP‘s 32 in 2012 Assembly polls.
To offset the BJP’s development plank, the opposition party has this time borrowed a Gujarati slogan coined by a social media user — ‘Vikas Gando Thayo Chhe’ (Development has gone crazy)’ — which soon caught on. The Congress is focusing on the issue of water shortage in rural areas. Urban areas get enough water, but there is a feeling of “being left out” in the rural areas of Saurashtra, claimed Gujarat Congress secretary Mahesh Rajput.
“Social media trolling of BJP’s high-decibel campaign was the first sign that the ruling party was going on the back foot. We decided to jump in and started raising basic issues such as water woes, infrastructure and the need to improve incomes in rural areas,” Rajput said.
Besides, the party also hopes to leverage the Patidar agitation for quota, farmer distress and the impact of demonetisation in the hinterland of Saurashtra.
“When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Rajkot in August for the celebration of (operationalisation of) Saurashtra Narmada Avataran Irrigation Project (SAUNI), it was an eye-wash. The project is not complete, but Modi and the BJP projected as if the entire project has been completed within five years,” Rajput claimed.
“The work of building canals and pipelines to carry the water to rural areas, which is more crucial, is still incomplete,” he claimed.
According to local Congress leaders, announcement of SAUNI project ahead of the 2012 Assembly elections gave a boost to the BJP back then.
“SAUNI project was a huge promise for entire Saurashtra. People believed his (Modi’s) words and voted for him. Hence the BJP recorded its best-ever performance from Saurashtra. Another factor (in 2012) was Modi’s ambition to become prime minister….It became a sentimental issue,” said a Congress leader.
“But in the last three years, the things have changed. Modi became Prime Minister, but water woes of rural areas have hardly been addressed. With demonetisation and the GST, rural and semi-rural areas have been badly affected,” he claimed.
Rajput noted that groundnut and cotton, two major crops of Saurashtra, need adequate water, and the state government’s “unpardonable delay” in completing irrigation projects has disappointed the people.
Niddat Barot, Gujarat Congress spokesperson for Saurashtra and Kutch, said farmers not getting the minimum support price for their crops is also a key issue. Indraneel Rajguru, Congress candidate from Rajkot West, has upped the ante against the ruling party.
In a press conference yesterday here with other Congress candidates from the region, he said, “We have decided to hold parallel rallies. Our rallies will be on the same day, at the same time and in the same area as Modi’s rallies in Rajkot region.”
The BJP has accused the Congress of selectively raising issues. Raju Dhruv, BJP’s spokesperson for Saurashtra region said, “Congress is selectively raising issues and hiding some facts that it found uncomfortable for its campaign. When Modi promised bringing Narmada river water to Saurashtra in 2012, people did vote for him.”
“But nobody understands that such huge infrastructureproject requires some time to complete. If we can bring the water near Rajkot, then we can also further redistribute it to villages.
“Land acquisition, its hearing, tribunals take time but the state government has brought the water,” he claimed.
According to Dhruv, the entire Saurashtra region is well connected with roads.
“There is good connectivity which helps fishermen community and farmers to supply their catch and produce. Most of the roads are maintained by state, why not a single word about it,” he wondered.
Modi will hold a rally in Rajkot on December 3. All eleven districts of Saurashtra will vote on December 9, in the first phase of Gujarat elections.