Prasanna D Zore in Sanand
Rediff.com‘s Prasanna D Zore and Photographer Reuben N V visit Gujarat’s Sanand taluka, the recent hotspot for many high-profile investments: A fascinating story of unassuming crorepatis.
Kanuji Ranchhodji Thakur, Natuji, Mahadevbhai, Sursanbhai Selabbhai, Ashrafbhai Pathan, Laxmibai Kantibhai Bharwad and Dashrathbhai Borad share unique destinies.
Ordinary farmers all their lives, these simple villagers from Rasulpura and Bol villages of Gujarat’s Sanand taluka in Ahmedabad district became millionaires overnight when Ratan Tata, chairman, Tata Motors, the company that makes passenger cars like the Indica and the Nano, decided to set up his dream project of Nano cars close to their tilled lands after the Tatas decided to leave West Bengal by the mercurial Mamata Banerjee and her Singur agitation.
In 2010-11 the land that would not fetch even Rs 300,000 to Rs 500,000 per bigha (a unit to measure a land’s size in this part of the world) commanded an astronomical Rs 28,53,000 for every bigha. (4.8 bighas=1 acre=0.0809 hectares.
The Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation, the state’s nodal authority that purchases land from farmers to develop industrial projects, made these villagers an offer they could not refuse.
“I sold 150 bighas of my ancestral land to GIDC and got more than Rs 40 crore (Rs 400 million),” says Ashrafbhai, pointing towards a vast expanse of land in Rasulpura that once belonged to him.
Ashrafbhai is the only villager who knows exactly how much land he sold to GIDC. The four other villagers Rediff.com spoke with could only give rough estimates of how much money they received for their land.
Ashrafbhai’s fellow villagers don’t show such acumen when it comes to the size of their land holdings.
“I and my brother sold 25 to 30 bighas of land and were paid Rs 8 crore (Rs 80 million),” says 53-year-old Kanuji, a former sarpanch of Rasulpura.
“25 bighas or 30 bighas?,” this correspondent asks Kanuji in amazement. His friends help him do some reverse calculation to arrive at the number of bighas he sold to GIDC. “Haan, it must have been some 28 acres,” says Kanuji, unable to hide his bluster.
Natuji (Rs 6 crore/Rs 60 million along with his brother), Laxmibai (Rs 2.5 crore/Rs 25 million), Sursanbhai (Rs 5.5 crore/Rs 55 million) and Dashrathbhai (Rs 12 crore/Rs 120 million along with his brother) and Mahadevbhai (Rs 11.5 crore/Rs 115 million) all quote random figures when asked about the size of their landholding sold to GIDC.
This is also the story of almost 100 families in Bol village and some 60 odd households in Rasulpura, says Dashrathbhai when asked about the number of crorepatis in these two villages.
Eexcept for Ashrafbhai and Dashrathbhai, most other farmers/landowners in these two villages eked out a hand-to-mouth existence, their sudden access to wealth has failed to change the lifestyles of these simple folk.
“I haven’t touched alcohol in the last six months,” says Natuji, who says he drank before he became as a neo-crorepati.
Dressed in a grey worn suit and doffing a smart Italian hat, Natuji excuses himself from the conversation on the pretext of gathering bamboo sticks or making arrangements for tea for his guests.
Mahadevbhai, who lives three doors away from Kanuji in Rasulpura, which has 60 to 65 houses in all, assures Ashrafbhai and the others gathered around him that “I haven’t touched daru (liquor) in the last month or so.”
“I had no future a couple of years ago. I was neck deep in debt,” says Kanuji who had borrowed heavily from moneylenders to marry off his daughters. He also mortgaged some 20 bighas of his land to the moneylenders.
“The interest just kept adding up. I couldn’t pay the sahukar (moneylender) the principal amount and had to let go the land to clear my debts,” he says.
I quickly do a back of the envelope calculation: That is a loss of approximately Rs 5.7 crore/Rs 57 million for Mahadevbhai.
“The loss I suffered by selling my land to the sahukar is huge,” says Kanuji, fidgeting with a basic Nokia mobile phone that betrays his sense of financial loss.
“But I have made up for those losses,” he says. Soon after Kanuji sold his remaining land to GIDC, he bought 20 bighas of land at Rs 5 lakh/Rs 500,000 per bigha in neighbouring Viramgam.
“In about eight months, there is a buyer who is willing to pay me three times my investment,” says Kanuji, who has bought 500 grams of gold for his daughters.
The same pattern of conversation is echoed when you speak with Mahadevbhai, Laxmiben and Natuji.
These villagers have bought huge tracts of arable, fertile, land in adjoining districts and villages at a pittance, which now command astronomical amounts of money as companies — Indian and foreign — make their way to Sanand.
While Mahadevbhai owns a Tavera, Innova and Bolero, Laxmiben and Natuji have invested their bonanza in landholdings in adjacent villages.
The lifestyles of these villagers has not changed. They continue to live simple lives, wear torn clothes, comfortable with the fact that they have millions of rupees in their bank accounts, which earn them handsome interest, with which they can confidently dream about their children’s bright lives.
Colgate, Hitachi, Ford, Peugot are all located in Sanand, kissing distance from each other.
But the villagers know it is the ‘Neno’ (that is they pronounce Ratan Tata’s dream project) that transformed their lives.
They know GIDC coordinated with hundreds of villagers in and around Sanand to buy their land, and they declare it is Chief Minister Narendra Modi who made them multi-millionaires overnight.
The villagers of Rasulpura and Bol are in no hurry to forget Modi’s presence in their good fortune when they cast their votes later this month.
“Hu toh Narendrabhai nech vote karwani chhoo,” Laxmiben tells Rediff.com, “Baki baddha gaya jhelum ni khadi ma (I am going to vote for Narendrabhai! Let everyone else drown in the Jhelum’s waters).”
M for Modi and M for Money
Sheela Bhatt in Gujarat
Rediff.com‘s Sheela Bhatt, who is travelling around Gujarat, lists the factors that will help Chief Minister Narendra Modi likely win the state election.
A real estate agent who sold a valuable track of land to Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan in Gujarat’s capital Gandhinagar told Rediff.com, “When we close our eyes and think of (Chief Minister Narendra) Modi we see money!”
That is the level of challenge and social-cultural complexity the Congress continuously confronts in Gujarat. Notwithstanding its media campaign, the Congress has not been able to give a convincing assurance to voters this election that its government will help middle-class Gujaratis explore opportunities and earn money while keeping the law and order situation under control.
Of the 37.8 million Gujarati voters 20.4 million are below the age of 40. A little over 1.2 million voters are between the ages of 18 and 19. They want stability and a sturdy leader.
By all accounts, Narendra Modi is trying to turn his predecessor Keshubhai Patel’s rebellion into a 1998-type situation.
In 1998, the Bharatiya Janata Party was divided between the Hajuria and Khajuria groups after Shankersinh Vaghela’s rebellion against the party. The election that followed was a three-corner fight.
The BJP won 117 seats in that election and 44.81 per cent of the votes polled. The Congress won 53 seats and secured 34.85 per cent of the vote.
Vaghela’s newly-formed party, the All India Rashtriya Janata Party, obtained an impressive 11.68 per cent votes, but wononly four seats.
Vaghela and the Congress combined won more votes, but the BJP was elected to power. Modi would employ all the tricks of the trade to cut into Congress votes with the help of ‘Independents’ and vote-spoiler pressure groups.
The 2012 election will break all records of ‘Independents’ trying their luck in Gujarat’s 182 assembly seats. Some of them will be proxies for Congress candidates, but many more will be helping the BJP.
Due to the presence of these ‘Independents’ in the fray, the victory margins will be low in many seats.
Modi will be the ultimate victor if he can bust the myth of the Patels and ‘Patelism’ in Gujarat politics. The issue has far reaching implications for Gujarati society.
The Patels are in real estate, agriculture, textiles and small-scale industries. Their money power and hired muscle power has influenced Gujarati society beyond limits.
Modi seems to be the only Gujarati leader in recent times who may or may not bust the Patel myth. This election will tell us if he succeeds or not.
Leuva and Kadva Patel votes number less than 6 million, but they enjoy a disproportionate influence if compared with their vote share in every field.
Modi will be watched closely by non-Patel voters in this election to see how he takes on the onslaught of the Leuva Patels in Saurashtra.
Narendra Modi, the so-called strongman, is as flexible and liable to make compromises as any other opportunistic Indian leader while making political decisions.
He casts aside his ego and dislikes while selecting BJP candidates. That goes in his favour.
The Modi factor is not bigger than the caste factor.
Taking into consideration Keshubhai Patel’s direct challenge to him in this election, Modi has given 32 per cent of BJP election tickets to Patels, out of the 177 seats the party will contest.
Modi, this decision reveals, takes Keshubhai’s challenge seriously.
Modi’s concern for the final outcome is also seen in his decision to give 89 sitting BJP MLAs tickets, dropping only 27 current legislators.
Like the 2007 election in Gujarat, the 2012 election is also being fought, essentially on the basis of caste, but Modi wears a different hat.
In the Patel-dominated public discourse, Modi’s unannounced image is that of a strong leader who tries to take under his wing ‘non-Patels’ including ‘anti-Patel’ votes.
Also, in the last five years, Modi has hardly made any political errors that could dent his carefully constructed public image among the urban middle class, especially amongst the youth and women voters. No major corruption cases have been exposed.
Modi tried to measure the Hindutva versus secular temperature through his Sadbhavana meetings and quickly decided to stick to his already marketed image.
In the words of a BJP leader, his Hindu voters consider him, “A capable Hindu leader of Gujarat who is taking development to the next stage.”
Hindutva emotion is currently not stark in Gujarat’s urban areas as it was in 2002. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and many Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders have been — covertly and overtly — helping Keshubhai Patel. But they won’t be able to strike a chord among voters by whipping up Hindutva.
Even Modi is not in position to exploit Hindutva. Gujarat politics has internalised the issue. The Hindutva emotion is under the surface and the frenzy is absolutely absent.
Modi had planned to give tickets to Muslim candidates in constituencies like Bhuj in Kutch, Vagra near Bharuch, Khadia and Jamalpur in Ahmedabad. But he played it safe yet again.
Modi and the BJP have not given a single election ticket to Muslim candidates, which reveals that Modi is not as daring a leader as he is often projected to be.
Modi, the loner
Narendra Modi is not dependent on either the media or his party. The Gujarat media, largely, is against Modi without creating much impact so far.
Modi has cut to size all his ministers and BJP leaders. They have been dwarfed even though they have spent 30 or 40 years in politics. These leaders are not written about in any election.
For the last decade, the BJP and Modi have had different identities. The Patel factor is anti-Modi, but not really anti-BJP.
Modi is seen as a ‘lonely man at the top’ by many voters.
Many of his loyal voters and believers claim Modi is lucky for Gujarat because the monsoon has been normal during his tenure.
Now, that is an unbeatable perception for Modi’s challengers.
Gujarat versus New Delhi
The Congress has failed to provide collective or individual leadership to take on Modi. The Congress has suffered a setback in recent weeks after a confident run.
The Modi government is being seriously challenged only at the micro-level in towns and villages.
In Surat, from where this report is being filed, what is unfailingly noticed is the absence of Rahul Gandhi, the future of the Congress, from the Gujarat battlefield.
Many people see Rahul’s absence as a clear indication that the Congress leadership has given up the Gujarat election as a lost cause.
This perception, spread by BJP leaders, is not bought by everyone. During visits to the Congress’s main election office and local offices, one can see hope about the party improving its electoral position.
“Election surveys on television have impacted our morale,” Congress leaders admit. The television election surveys have all predicted a victory for Narendra Modi and the BJP.
“The final results will not be as bad as the BJP projects,” one Congress leader told me.
Congress leaders try hard to dismiss the perception that the Congress would like Modi to win so that Rahul Gandhi will have an easier run in the Lok Sabha election. Pan-India, minority voters, it is felt, will rally behind the Congress only if Modi is in the fray.
105 or 125?
In the last 72 hours of travelling through Gujarat, one hears only one question: Will Modi win 125 seats or 105 seats?