Gujarat 2017

In Gujarat’s Detroit, jobs are the main issue

All for a living: Early this year, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor organised huge protests in Sanand demanding jobs, and his supporters tried to lock down the Tata plant in the area.  

The 65-km drive from Ahmedabad to Viramgam provides a glimpse of the Gujarat model of development with dozens of factories, mostly auto component manufacturing units catering to the car-making factories that have come up here, dotting the highway.

After Tata’s Nano plant was shifted from West Bengal to Sanand in 2008, several other top auto companies followed suit, including the U.S.’ Ford Motor Company, and Japan’s Suzuki and Honda Motors and Scooters, because of the State government’s generous incentive package and other infrastructural support. Moreover, the plants to manufacture Suzuki and JSW Energy’s foray into electric vehicles are also likely to come up in this region only.

Located in rural Ahmedabad, the Sanand-Viramgam-Hansalpur belt has emerged as a new auto hub to rival Tamil Nadu’s Sriperumbudur-Oragadam.

However, despite huge foreign investments and new factories, the region is also the epicentre of Gujarat’s social unrest over the last few years as different castes agitate to demand quotas in government jobs and education.

According to a Gujarat government official, the auto hub has attracted around ₹20,000 crore in investments and approximately 30,000 new jobs have been created, but many of those jobs have been cornered by a migrant workforce, leaving very little for locals.

“The problem is that the auto industries need skilled manpower and that’s not available so we have set-up several skilled centres to create manpower,” said a senior official in the State Secretariat.

As jobs remained elusive, two young men rose to capitalise on the widespread frustration in the region.

The 24-year-old Hardik Patel and 40-year-old Alpesh Thakor, spearheading their respective agitations for Patidars and Other Backward Classes (OBC), are from this belt. Among their main demands is jobs for local youth, which are still elusive despite new factories coming up in the area.

The area has a sizeable presence of communities belonging to the OBCs and Patidars, besides Dalits and minorities.

“Yes, there are many factories that have come up here but not enough jobs for locals,” says Jorubha Dabhi, a local Congress leader from Sanand. According to him agriculture still remains the main source of earning a livelihood for the local population.

“There are not enough jobs for us, so we have to remain dependent on agriculture, which is under stress and becoming non-remunerative,” says a 28-year-old Sanjay Koli from the Chharodi village on the Sanand-Viramgam highway.

The 100-km region comprises three Assembly segments: Viramgam, Sanand and Becharaji, of which the first two were won by the Congress and the last by the BJP in the 2012 Assembly polls. However, during the high profile Rajya Sabha polls in August this year, Congress legislators from Sanand and Viramgam defected to the BJP, delivering a major blow to the Opposition party.

Now, Tejashri Patel, the Congress legislator who won in 2012, is the BJP candidate from Viramgam, fighting against the Congress candidate Lakhabhai Bharwad, an OBC nominee. In Sanand, the BJP has fielded local Congress legislator Karamsi Koli Patel’s son as the party candidate to take on Pushpaben Dabhi, a local district Panchayat leader.

In Bechraji, the BJP’s sitting legislator Rajni Patel is pitted against Bharatji Thakor, a Congress candidate and member of Alpesh Thakor’s erstwhile Thakor Sena.

“Our main agenda is: where are jobs the then Chief Minister and now Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised? The people of this region gave their lands for industrial projects and now, in those factories, their children have to beg for petty jobs like [those of] security guards,” said Mr. Bharwad, the Congress candidate from Viramgam.

Ironically, the Congress’ claims of widespread unemployment and farm distress are countered by the BJP’s candidate Dr. Tejshri Patel who, not very long ago, was one of the most vocal voices against the BJP government.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2020 1:04:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/gujarat-2017/trouble-in-gujarats-decelerated-auto-hub/article21254690.ece

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