The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Traders ignore losses, count Modi gains

Rajkot, Nov. 30: Saurashtra’s business community will vote BJP lock, stock and barrel.

The perception that the party’s support could be dented because of the setback to business and trade, which form Gujarat’s backbone, on account of the riots does not hold in this region that sends 58 legislators to the 182-member Assembly.

The business community’s unqualified support to the BJP may not be good news for the Congress, which hopes to make most of its electoral gains in Saurashtra, till now a saffron stronghold.

Ironically, the main reason was Hindutva though every entrepreneur spoken to admitted that the post-Godhra backlash against Muslims had taken its toll. But in the polemics of Hindutva-versus-economic well being, the first has won hands down.

As Praveen Vaid, a diamond merchant and member of the Rajkot Chamber of Commerce, put it: “The Hindu card worked because whenever riots took place earlier, we felt Hindus were the principal victims of the killing and looting by the Muslims. This time it was the other way round and we felt a sense of triumph.”

So palpable was the relief among Hindus that the “other side” was “properly thrashed” that many of Vaid’s businessmen friends gave huge sums of money to the Narendra Modi government as a “gesture of gratitude”. “Sher bakri ban ke rahega to sher ko marna hi hai. Modi ne soya hua sher ko jaga diya hai (If a tiger insists on behaving like a lamb, it is destined to die without a whimper. Modi has awakened the sleeping tiger.),” he said.

The distinction between the “awakened Hindu” and Modi got blurred in their eyes as everyone, including the Patels, rooted for him as the “best” chief minister Gujarat has produced. “If the BJP returns to power, it will be because of Modi,” said Subhash Patel, a supplier of agricultural equipment. “When we think of Hinduism, we can only think of Modi,” he added.

“Modi is full of fire,” remarked Atul Patel, the owner of an auto agency. “He has a fast-track approach to solving problems,” said Raju, an employee, explaining the difference between Modi and the Congress’ chief ministerial prospective, Shankersinh Vaghela.

So pervasive was the Modi euphoria that Rajkot’s businessmen were even willing to credit him for pushing through development projects started by his predecessor Keshubhai Patel or the Congress. “Modi saw to it that most villages were connected by canals carrying Narmada water. He was responsible for building a four-lane highway connecting Rajkot to Ahmedabad. He developed parks and cleared our pavements of migrants,” said Dinesh Khedia, who sells PVC pipes.

Not that the business fraternity did not have its litany of complaints. “One whole year has got ruined. My overall business has gone down by 75 per cent. Exports are down by 30 per cent and 50 per cent of my workers, who hail from West Bengal, left after the riots and are returning very slowly,” Vaid admitted.

For Sanjay Modi, the proprietor of Sudham Steel Corporation, what rankled the most was that Gujarat was overtaken by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as the most preferred state by foreign investors.

But he added a little hesitantly that it was “pointless” to blame the BJP for all that has gone wrong.

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