Why migrant voters matter in Patidar bastion Surat
Dhaneshwar Jena stands outside his shop that has Mataji Electronics and Mataji Travels written in bold letters. Jena is from Cuttack in Odisha, a voter in Surat’s Udhna constituency where he has set up his business.
“I ran away from home at the age of 21 after failing in one subject in my graduation and the train that I caught brought me here. I started with a paan shop and have prospered a lot since then. This city is safe as my mother and sister can go out even at night,” says Jena, 38, who does travel bookings and money transfers.
Udhna assembly constituency, which is in Surat district, has nearly 233,000 voters of whom Jena claims that nearly 30,000 would be from Odisha.
“People from our state are mainly working in the spinning mills and in all, there would be close to 6-7 lakh Odiyas in Surat but only a handful of them have voter cards,” says Jena.
According to a Bharatiya Janata Party worker speaking anonymously, more than half the voters in the Udhna constituency are migrants.
The city of Surat, which is a hub for Patidars who are protesting against the BJP, has the largest proportion of migrants (58%) among cities in India.
Its population of about 5.5 mn include close to 3.2 mn voters, spread across 12 constituencies. “There would be close to 9-10 lakh migrant voters in Surat and they are all with BJP. We are confident of retaining all the 12 seats here,” said C.R. Patil, BJP MP from Navsari, who hails from Jalgaon in Maharashtra.
Four out of 12 constituencies -- Udhana, Chauriyasi, Majura and Limbayat -- are dominated by migrant voters from UP, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, according to internal surveys by political parties.
Surat city is estimated to have a floating population of 2-3 lakh. Among all the districts in Gujarat, Surat has the highest difference between expected voting population based on Census and actual voting population based on electoral rolls. The difference is attributed by the Election Commission to the floating population.
Members of the Patidar community led by Patel Anamat Andolan Samiti leader Hardik Patel have extended support to the Congress for the upcoming state elections.
Surat, India’s biggest centre for diamond cutting and polishing, has been the country’s fastest growing city for the last four decades. It is a story of massive migration (Chart I), says Chinmay Tumbe, an economic historian at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad who studies migratory patterns.
Migrants are common across the small business-dominated belt of south Gujarat which is also the region that was most affected by demonetisation and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Since most of the internal migrants from other districts within Gujarat are Patidars, especially in Surat’s diamond industry, the BJP stands a “better chance” with migrants from outside the state, says Tumbe.
Vinod Patil, a resident of Udhana who hails from Jalgaon in Maharashtra does accountancy work with a shop dealer in Surat’s textile market. He says after Gujaratis, the population of Marathis is maximum in Surat.
The BJP fielded Sangeeta Patil, a Maharashtrian, from Limbayat constituency because Marathis are dominant in that area, he says.
He says many of the migrants don’t have voter ID cards as they live in small rented homes and don’t have residential proof. Jena agrees.
“Proving residence address may also not be easy, especially for short-term migrants. This is the paradox. In many cases, migrants live in areas that most require clean drinking water or better sewerage services. They even have the numbers in some constituencies. But they do not stay for long enough,” Tumbe says.
Many migrants feel that there is not enough representation from their community despite their numbers.
Rajesh Mishra of Uttar Pradesh from Choryasi constituency says no party gives ticket to a candidate from their state even though their numbers are equal to those of Gujaratis in the region.
“There is peace, unity and trust in this city due to which a large number of people from outside like us have settled here. We want some legislator from our state who can address issues of our community like regularizing pay for the workers who toil at the mills. They work 12 hours which is not fair and should be reduce to eight,” said Mishra.
According to him, there would be close to 60,000 voters from his community in Choryasi, and the total number of migrants from UP and other northern states would easily be 1mn.
However, whether these migrants actually vote is hard to estimate. “Most migrants in India do not vote. They are more invested and interested in their source villages and towns,” he says.
However, as barriers to migration ease and India urbanises, political parties will inevitably spread along with their diaspora, according to Tumbe.
“Shiv Sena, for example, has a base in Surat because of the sizeable number of Maharashtrians from Ratnagiri district.” Tumbe said.
On Sunday, PAAS leader Hardik Patel took out a massive public rally in Surat. In the 10-km long roadshow in Patidar-dominated Katargam, Patel said on Twitter that more than one lakh people in Surat had joined the rally.