Gujarat Assembly Election: Congress bullish about its chances in Surendranagar, but EVM rigging remains a concern

Two hours from Ahmedabad is Surendranagar, the edge of Saurashtra's cotton belt. Dilip Valera, vice-president of the Surendranagar District Congress Committee and an industrial consultant, is helping Congress candidates in every election. His visiting card is a replica of his Facebook page. "It's my way of telling people I'm on Facebook. I have 4,800 friends there," says the 65-year-old.

Like any party foot soldier would, he too claims Congress will win all five seats in the district in the upcoming Assembly election — the party had won only one in 2012. "I don't know what the final results across Gujarat will be like. But I can tell you that I have never seen the Congress put up such a good show in Gujarat, and never seen the central leadership work so hard on the ground," he says.

Dilip Valera, vice-president of Surendranagar District Congress Committee. Firstpost/Shivam Vij

Dilip Valera, vice-president of Surendranagar District Congress Committee. Firstpost/Shivam Vij

For this, he credits Rahul Gandhi. "Rahul is working so hard in Gujarat; it has enthused the workers and made them feel there is hope for the Congress, the hope to win," Valera says.

But is it a genuine sentiment or just sycophancy at work? "Everybody can see the difference. Do you notice how the BJP and its supporters are no longer able to call him 'Pappu'?" he asks. "Aaj Pappu baap ban raha hai unka."

His main fear is regarding the EVMs, that they may be rigged. A 20-member team of the Congress party in the district was trained in checking EVMs. They were given a copy of the rules regarding handling of the machines. They checked every EVM, casting up to 1,000 votes on each machine for every candidate, to see if there was any error. "The centre where the EVMs were kept didn't have metal detection gates. We said handheld detectors won't do as the rules clearly mandate gates. They had to install those," he recalls.

He's even discussed EVMs with Sam Pitroda. Curiously, he says, the BJP hasn't bothered with checking EVMs yet. "That makes me think they might still have some tricks up their sleeve," he adds.

The rigged EVM fear is widespread, he says, convinced that this is how the BJP won 312 seats in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year.

Varela's business card is a replica of his Facebook page

Varela's business card is a replica of his Facebook page

While many in Gujarat say a bigger problem for the Congress is a weak cadre, Valera alleges that BJP workers could cast fake votes in the name of voters who don't turn up.

That could happen only if a Congress boot worker leaves his post, as many in Gujarat say they do by afternoon. "That won't happen this time," Valera says, indirectly admitting it has been a problem in the past. "There's been a lot of training and oversight by AICC this time. There is a multi-layered system of oversight the AICC has put in place," he says.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi's visits to Gujarat's temples have helped prevent the Congress from being portrayed as a Muslim-only party, he adds. "We are showing that we too are Hindu, and that meant their communal propaganda is not working," he explains.

But it's not that Rahul Gandhi leading from the front has meant Ahmed Patel's influence has reduced. Valera insists that Patel is still as influential, except not publicly so. "Every election the BJP spreads rumours that Ahmed Patel would be chief minister if the Congress wins. This time they are unable to say so," he says.

He does feel the Congress would have benefited by naming a chief ministerial candidate, and in Bharat Solanki, the current Gujarat Congress chief, they have a good choice. "But more importantly," he says, "Shankersinh Vaghela's exit has been a gain for us. There's no infighting and factional wars this time."

So what's the central issue this election? It's the failure of the BJP to deliver on its promises, he says. "Far from meeting expectations, the Modi government has worsened matters. Farming has become unviable and the youth don't have jobs," Valera says.

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Updated Date: Dec 06, 2017 11:31 AM

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