Gujarat elections: PM Modi remains the favorite of youth but Rahul gains mileage

Ahmedabad: At the eastern edge of Gujarat outside Chota Udaipur’s Government Polytechnic Institute, a group of young students are pulling each other’s leg over a cup of tea. They are from Vadodara, a little over 100 km away, and travel down thrice a week to the institute to pursue a course in engineering.
Ankit Sharma will vote for the first time in the 2017 assembly elections. And he is absolutely clear about his preference —Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Modi is doing good work, but it is invisible work and so people are unnecessarily criticizing him. He is maintaining good relations with other countries so that they can help us. He is slowly helping extract out black money. All these will yield dividends. He needs our support.”
Karan Parmar, standing alongside, nods along—and argues that Modi’s ‘vikas’ development schemes, including the bullet train, is for Gujarat’s development. “And look at Congress. All they are interested in is promoting family rule.”
At a time when PM Modi has come increasing criticism, voices of young students—particularly from the sciences and commerce disciplines—across central Gujarat’s colleges are a reminder of his continued popularity. This faith he evokes will, BJP hopes, once again result in a victory in the assembly elections.
HT travelled to four institutes — in Anand, Vadodara, and Chota Udaipur—and encountered overwhelming support for Modi. But this was coupled with critical voices, mood for change among some, and an openness to listen to Rahul Gandhi.
Modi, yet again
Outside the SN College in Chota Udaipur, Khilraj Rathwa — a tribal student pursuing BSC in chemistry, says Modi has done good work. “He brought roads. We have electricity for 24 hours. Compare it to the rest of India.” When asked about jobs, Rathwa laughs, “Let me pass my exams first. I want to teach. I think I will get a job.”
This is echoed by commerce students at the MS University in Baroda. Sitting in the lawns outside the grand Faculty of Commerce structure, Sandeep Yadav, Raj Yadav and Shrikant Pathak are preparing for their semester exams. “BJP will win. See, Modi is working for the long-term welfare of the country. For this he is bringing reforms which will show benefits later. How can people expect immediate returns?” asks Yadav, with an air of frustration. Pathak concurs, “GST will create a unified market. We are heading towards formal economy. People who did not pay taxes despite making money are paying taxes. There is a push for infrastructure. Modi has all the correct ideas. This is good for both Gujarat and India.”
And because he has the correct ideas, even if there are mistakes the government may have committed in Gujarat, the BJP needs to be elected back, insist the students.
Desire for change
But while dominant, the support for BJP is not uniform among students. At the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in Sardar Patel University in Anand, the mood is, in fact, distinctly for a change.
Shilpa is sitting out in the sun, with a group of friends, poring over notes for her exams. A student of MA in Gujarati, she had voted for Modi in 2014 and believes the BJP has done both good things and made mistakes – specifically demonetisation and GST. “We had thought that Congress won’t be able to stand up after 2014. But Rahul Gandhi is trying hard, I watched his meetings on TV. Gujarat needs change. I am thinking of voting for him this time.”
Rohit Rahul studies sociology at the university. A Dalit student, he too voted Modi in 2014 – but feels BJP has not delivered on vikas(development) and has been unfavorable to Dalits. “Modi used to work in Gujarat, but in Delhi, he talks more and works less. I had to stand in queues during demonetization. GST has disrupted our family business..And BJP does not even listen to Patels – you think they will listen to us Dalits? Una incident showed it. The Congress is better for Dalits.”
That mood is apparent among others too. Dilip Vasava is from Narmada district and is studying psychology at the university. He says Modi is the only good person in BJP. “They don’t have anyone else in Gujarat. Instead, I sense a change for the better in Rahul Gandhi. He is focused on jobs. We will vote for Congress.” His friend, Jaiwant Dovil, another tribal student, pointed to what he saw as an error in Modi’s priorities. “Modi is too city-centric. Tell me how is this digital India relevant for my village which barely has any network? He is not thinking of the common person.”
But while the voices seeking change are present and vocal, suggesting a potential dip in what the BJP commanded back in 2014, the dominant mood among the younger college-going students of central Gujarat remains supportive of the Prime Minister. Modi may ride home on the back of young, largely first-time voters, yet again.

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