Gujarat BJP chief pictured why Surat textile market policy is heating up
With its Rs 80,000 crore textile industry, Surat is one of the largest man-made fabric manufacturing centers in the country. For the past month, the markets have been in turmoil, along with politics.
For a long time the division of labor between looms, mills and markets has been clear – owners are Gujaratis from Saurashtra and Surat, traders largely Rajasthanis and Punjabis, processing operations are mainly run by Gujaratis and Rajasthanis, and at all levels the workforce comes from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Together, this workforce totals 18 lakh, or 20% of the city’s migrant stock.
Around mid-January, some of the members called for new elections to the central body of traders, the Federation of Textile Traders Associations of Surat (FOSTTA). Today, six large textile markets, out of the 165 that are part of FOSTTA, supported demand. The six, led by former FOSTTA chairman Tarachand Kasat, are believed to have the backing of BJP Gujarat chairman CR Paatil.
Sources said Kasat, who had fallen out with the BJP sooner, might try to get into Paatil’s good books with the upcoming Assembly elections. It also cemented the position of Paatil, a Lok Sabha MP from Navsari, in the influential textile industry.
Migrant support gives Paatil an edge among his rivals in the Gujarat BJP unit. So much so that he was among the BJP leaders chosen to campaign for Narendra Modi in Varanasi in the Lok Sabha elections.
Support is all the more crucial now that the Patidar agitation led by Hardik Patel rocked the BJP in the Saurashtra region. In 2015, the Congress won 36 seats, down from 14 earlier, in the Surat Municipality elections. In 2019, the rookie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won 27 seats, a result seen as largely influenced by the Patidar vote. Paatil had reacted to the results by saying, “Bakru kadhta unth pethu (In our effort to remove the goat, the camel entered inside).” The goat was apparently a reference to Congress and the camel to the AAP.
With migrant workers being among the hardest hit by the Covid pandemic, the BJP has tried to woo them.
Among the markets in Surat that have aligned themselves with the Kasat faction is the Japanese market on Ring Road, which is known to be a staunch BJP supporter. Traders here, with roots in UP, brought out samples of sarees with pictures of Modi, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and the BJP symbol, for sale ahead of the UP elections.
The market association sent a letter to FOSTTA stating that it would not recognize it until new elections were held.
Other markets that have opposed FOSTTA are Good Luck Textile Market Association, Shree Mahalaxmi Market Association, Shree Saikrupa Market Association, New Lucky Textile Market Association and Sai Khati Textile Market.
Paatil has already gained goodwill in Surat’s markets by mediating with the Center to ensure that a GST-related demand from textile traders is met. Darshana Jardosh, Union Minister of State, Textiles and Railways, is a Lok Sabha MP from Surat.
The Kasat faction has raised the fact that four of FOSTTA’s members – President Manoj Agrawal, Secretary Champalal Bothra, Treasurer Rajesh Agrawal and Spokesman Rangnath Sharda – have been its leaders for seven years and control the body. He also threatened to bring down the members if new elections were not called in seven days.
At an event to commend him for his help with the TPS request, Paatil had also attacked FOSTTA, asking why there was “no election or audit of the association”.
FOSTTA President Manoj Agrawal said: “We are not against new elections. We contact the 700 registered voters and discuss it with them.