The city—where Mahatma Gandhi spent his childhood when his father served as the diwan of Porbandar, Rajkot and Wankaner is a stronghold of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), known for its hardline politics, while Gandhi always looked to tolerance and inclusivity.
Over the last three decades, since the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, BJP has lost this constituency only once, in 2009 to the Congress. The current chief minister, Vijay Rupani, represents the Rajkot West assembly seat. This time, sitting BJP MP Mohan Kundariya will be looking to retain his seat. He’s up against Lalit Kagathara of the Congress.
The childhood hometown of Mahatma Gandhi, who was always rather sceptical of rapid industrialization, is home to more than 500 small and medium manufacturing units. Maruti Suzuki, the country’s largest carmaker, sources about 90% of its supplies from foundries or small factories in and around Rajkot.
Western Gujarat’s fourth-largest city, Rajkot is the seventh fastest-growing city in the world, according to a report published last year by UK-based forecasting and quantitative analysts Oxford Economics. Ramesh Monani, a retired banker and resident of the city, credits much of the growth of Rajkot to the industrious nature of the Patel community, which accounts for 13% of the state’s population.
The rapid industrialization is putting to the test the resolve of civic authorities and elected representatives as residents flag many infrastructure problems that come with a fast-growing city. Rajkot does not have a Metro, which means that most workers don’t have access to cheap, reliable and fast public transport. The migration of hundreds of workers from the Saurashtra peninsula of the state puts Rajkot under pressure to provide shelter, clean water, healthcare facilities and education.
As the city’s more than 1.88 million voters prepare to cast their ballots on Tuesday, these are among the issues on their minds. Posters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi populate most busy intersections with the occasional banner of Congress president Rahul Gandhi on the sides of roads.
“Power tariffs for industries are among the highest in the country. The cost of acquiring land is about ₹2 crore an acre," says Amrutlal Bharadia, chairman and managing director of Ravi Technoforge, a private firm that makes ball and roller bearings for the transportation industry. “How can we scale up these smaller companies and be expected to compete with Chinese firms when direct and indirect state subsidies go to those firms," says Bharadia, who estimates his firm’s annual sales at ₹250 crore.
Small businesses aren’t happy with demonetization and goods and services tax (GST) either, and for the ordinary resident, the water shortage is a concern.
“Water scarcity is a big challenge. We have to depend on the Narmada river. If the Narmada dries up, Rajkot will have to be vacated," said Monani. The Aji river, the main source of drinking water for Rajkot, is dry for most of the year and most homes depend on borewells.
“The Rajkot municipal corporation supplies water for less than 30 minutes a day. Borewells are the only option. Here too, we seem to be reaching a dead end. Earlier this year, my neighbour had to dig 500 feet to find water," said Manish Kalaria, a self-employed professional.
High fees collected by mushrooming private schools, even as government schools are being shut, is a problem that Bharadia flags. “The government should cap fees charged by private schools. Most of my workers send their children to private schools. Almost 60% of their salaries go to paying tuition fees for their children," says Bharadia.
In one of the bylanes near Kaba Gandhi No Delo, Gandhi’s family home which is now a museum called Gandhi Smriti, a shopkeeper is looking forward to the election on Wednesday and the results that will be announced in May.
“Roads and bridges have been built in the city, but haven’t kept pace with the growth of the city. Demonetization and these different GST slabs have not helped businesses here," says Shreyas, who runs a garment shop with his father.
“Saurashtra region is rooted in traditional caste hierarchies and voting happens on community lines. This will play an important role in which candidate eventually wins."
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