Contrary to the widely-peddled narrative that Gujarati Muslims live in “fear”, auto-rickshaw driver Barkat Bhai of Mehsana, the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, favours the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over other parties in the ensuing Assembly elections.
Donning a pink shirt and a pair of black pants, Barkat Bhai, in his 50s, is deeply engrossed in a conversation with five to seven men from his community over promises of political leaders at Nagalpur College chowk in Mehsana.
As a man suggest choosing Congress or the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in this election, Barkat Bhai can’t hold himself back, “No one can carry out the scale of development that Modi Ji has done in Gujarat.” And the rest of the gathering nods in unison.
Speaking to The New Indian, he says that Muslims in Mehsana are living a peaceful life.
“A lot of development has happened in Mehsana and other parts of the state. Though other parties are making all-out efforts, there are high chances that chief minister Bhupesh Bhai Patel will return to power,” Barkat Bhai says.
He refutes claims that Muslims live under a show of fear in the home state of PM Modi. “This is a big country with different kinds of people. But we must support what is right. If we have enjoyed the fruits of development, we must admit it and support who did it.”
Other Muslim men in the group also share Barkat Bhai’s views.
Syed Imtiyaz, a local, expresses disappointment over the absence of former deputy CM Nitin Patel but commits to vote for the BJP on December 5.
“Mehsana has witnessed a wave of development under the BJP rule. Though we are disappointed that Nitin Bhai has not been given the ticket, we will vote for BJP,” he says.
He lists a decrease in corruption in government offices, action against criminals & anti-social elements, and a crackdown on adulterations as the reasons behind his decision to choose the saffron party which has ruled the state for 27 years.
The conversation moves on to the electoral promises of the AAP and whether the Arvind Kejriwal-led party deserves a chance in the state.
“Promises of freebies won’t work here. Gujaratis are self-respecting people and they don’t accept anything for free,” says another man who also hails from the Muslim community.
He gives credit for development in the state to PM Modi. “Let me tell you something about my village. It has 125 households and you will see that all roads are made of concrete or asphalt. If development continues to happen, why should we vote for another party?”
However, concern persists over high inflation levels and is a common feature of tea stall conversations.
“Modi Ji has done good work but he is not able to control the rising inflation,” says another man who advocates for the AAP.
PM Modi’s hometown Vadnagar, where he sold tea in his early childhood, falls under Mehsana district.
Addressing a rally in Mehsana, PM Modi recently said that the BJP is the only option if the country is to be taken forward in the next 25 years.