Sanand town, site of Tata Motors’ Nano plant and ready to welcome carmakers Ford and Peugeot next, presents an impression of prosperity to any visitor. Mudhouses have been replaced with concrete buildings. Vehicles struggle to find parking space, for household after household has bought cars and motorbikes, with residents having turned newly rich from the compensation they got for land.
The way the newly rich are splurging, however, many say all the money will be gone one day, with Sanand still lacking basic infrastructure and a model for sustainable growth.
Yet it is caste equations that parties are striving to get right in Sanand, a new constituency carved out of parts of former minister Amit Shah’s Sarkhej seat and areas of Ahmedabad district. The Congress has nominated a candidate from the dominant Koli Patel community.
The BJP has fielded a Rajput, a community with little sway here. At an open meeting on Monday evening, the presence of leaders from the Thakore, Patel and Rathod communities marked an effort maintain the caste balance. Hukumdeo Yadav, MP from Bihar, who called Sonia Gandhi a “kulakshini bahu” at the meeting, never mentioned development.
Whether there has been development at all is, in fact, a question that divides residents. Habib Khan, 51, Sanand taluka vice-president in the BJP’s minority cell, has three Tata cars, a Nissan, an open jeep and several motorbikes parked in his backyard. Khan is sarpanch of Rasulpura, one of the dozens of villages that sold huge areas of land to the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC).
“This is development for sure,” says Khan. “Five years ago we had to struggle to feed ourselves. We had land but there was no certainty of crops. Today, we sell land here and buy some outside Sanand, and deposit our money in banks.”
“This is not development,” disagrees Ravubha Vaghela, president of the Sanand Industries Association. “All that has happened is a huge rise in real estate prices. Locals haven’t benefited the way they should have. They have got cash for their land and are spending it on cars and lifestyle.”
Vaghela, of Vasna village, owns Raviraj Foils Ltd, right opposite the Nano plant. He gave 30 acres himself.
“It is a bubble that will soon burst,” echoes Amulya Parmar, who runs a petrol pump on the recently opened state highway 17. “Once the money is spent, you will become a landless labourer.”
He too has gained from Sanand’s transformation, with sales from his station having increased five-fold since 2007 when the Nano plant was announced. His station supplied petrol for the initial Nanos that rolled out.
The Sanand wing of the GIDC is on the verge of becoming state’s largest in terms of land acquired, with rough estimates predicting over 5,000 hectares by the end of the year.
But the government has ignored infrastructure such as roads, schools, colleges, nor has it helped set up ancillary units that could have created job opportunities. Sanand has a couple of ITIs but no college. In 2008, the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority included 22 villages of Sanand but is yet to divide these into industrial or commercial zones that would have enabled it to start putting infrastructure in place.
“Caste is a major factor here,” says Congress leader Pankaj Vaghela. He says the Congress has already gained the edge over the BJP by fielding Kamsi Patel, whose Koli Patel community, at an estimated 17 per cent, represents the single largest section of the electorate.
The BJP has fielded Kamabhai Rathod, sitting MLA of Viramgam. The Rajput’s nomination has upset local party workers. Kanbha Gohil, a Kshatriya, has switched to the Congress because of the nomination. “Although Rajputs are Kshatriyas, other sub-castes such as Darbars and Thakores view them as outsiders,” Gohil says.
The Darbars and the Thakores together constitute about one-fourth of the total 2 lakh votes. A tenth are OBCs, while five per cent each are Rabaris and Kadva Patels. The Leuva Patels represent two per cent.
BJP leaders insist they have got the caste equations right. “If you consider the whole of Ahmedabad district, we have distributed tickets to Patels, Rajputs and Kshatriyas. We have a lot of support from the Koli Patel and Kshatriya communities, besides other communities who form the largest number of voters,” says Pradipsinh Vaghela, state youth BJP chief and from Sanand.
The BJP leads the Congress narrowly, 11-10, in the Sanand taluka panchayat, elections to which were held in 2011. The result marked a fall for the BJP after the Sanand municipality elections of 2007, when it won 27 of 30 seats.
Caste and land have both been at the centre of crimes in Sanand. “Against last year’s 11 cases of community clashes, this year there have been 14 so far,” says N S Malek, inspector of Sanand police station.
There have been so many land disputes that district authorities formed a Special Investigation Team to look into land scams in December 2010. It had received 630 complaints till November 25, registered 44 FIRs and arrested more than four dozen people. Most of the cases relate to Sanand and Bavla. Last year, the Ahmedabad district police sought a separate police station for the Sanand GIDC to handle issues arising out of migration on account of the auto plants.
Voters: 2.07 lakh
(Men 1.09 lakh, women 98,000)
Candidates: Kamabhai Rathod (BJP), Kamsi Patel (Cong), Dharmendra D Patel (GPP)