The dingy lanes of Ashapuri in Surat, a home for migrants from at least half a dozen States, is alive with hectic political activity these days in view of next month’s Assembly elections.
Plagued by the lack of basic amenities, these migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana have made this locality, one of the biggest residential areas in the city, their home for the past several decades.
There are over 15 lakh migrant workers in Surat engaged in diamond cutting and polishing, textile mills, embroidery, handloom, and textile dyeing, while some make their living by selling vegetables and fruits on pushcarts and by running kirana shops in the densely populated localities of the city.
After the announcement of the election schedule, contestants from various political parties have been taking part in electioneering to woo voters here. Most voters have been evincing interest towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rather than the Congress or the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The Majura and Choryasi Assembly segments, which include areas in Ashapuri, have electorates of almost 2.8 lakh and 5.5 lakh respectively, a majority of whom are from Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Bihar.
“We have been loyal to the BJP and will continue to remain so. A large section of people living in this locality are not bothered about other parties, and believe that voting for Congress or any other party is like wasting our franchise,” said Ashok Singh, president of the Ganpatnagar Co-Operative Housing Society, in an area which falls under the Majura constituency currently represented by Gujarat’s Home Minister Harsh Sanghavi.
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A native of Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Singh migrated to Surat in 1982 to work in the textile industry. Despite the lack of basic facilities such as healthcare, education or benefits from the welfare schemes provided by the State government, many north Indian voters like Mr. Singh believe that voting for the BJP was the “right” choice.
“We don’t even know the AAP candidate’s name. Since they know that we are the staunch supporters of the BJP, people from other parties don’t waste their time by campaigning here,” said Dilip Kumar Mourya, who runs a paan shop at Gwalak Nagar.
Some distance away in Shivaji Nagar, 29-year-old auto-rickshaw driver Ganesh Kumar Sahu, who has been living in the city of Diamonds for the past couple of years, was reluctant to reveal his political affiliation but said that it was time for a change.
“I don’t support the BJP, or the Congress or the AAP, but it is high time for a change. If we are getting benefitted by voting for the AAP, we will vote for it,” he said.
At Shivaji Nagar, Radheshyam Gupta and his relative Chandan Gupta, both vegetable vendors, were of the same opinion. They felt that the AAP may be new to the political landscape of BJP-ruled Gujarat but there is no harm in trusting them. “After seeing videos of government schools and hospitals in Delhi on WhatsApp and Facebook, I feel there is no harm in voting for them. If they promise to bring change in our lives, we are ready to support them,” Mr. Gupta said.
Their customer joined the discussion, saying, “Uss Delhi wale pe kaisa bharosa kare? BJP appne ghar ka party hai, bahar wale koo thodi hum Gujarat me pravesh karne denge. (How can we trust that Delhi wala? We cannot allow outsiders to come into Gujarat. BJP is our party.)“