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99 Yatra
Kutch votes with verve and vigour
12 December 2017

Sitting on a sofa next to a wall that is beautifully painted as a throne in the traditionally Kutchi style, Suleiman Sheikh Hingorja, 80, poses like a king on voting day.

I am a loyal voter of the Congress, irrespective of who forms the government,says the village elder showing his inked finger at the lounge of the Gateway to the Rann Resort at Dhordo village.

In the Rann of Kutch, famous for its white desert, the three-month Rann Utsav, a major tourist event, is under way. That is why local people, mostly Muslims, have voted in the first hour itself. Tourism development

Since Modi Saheb started the Rann festival here, there has been a lot of development. There are bank branches and ATMs, a school, a dispensary and an ambulance,says Mian Hussain, sarpanch (village headman) of Dhordo on the edges of the White Desert, which falls in the Bhuj Assembly constituency.

Dhordo and Gorewali both resort villages, about 80 km from the Pakistan border,are among those that have also gained from the Border Area Development Programme (BADP) and boast all-weather roads, power supply and even fibre optic connectivity.

BJP supporters credit Narendra Modi for scaling up the Rann festival when he was the Chief Minister.Its true that ATMs, banks are for the use of tourists. But it helps us as well. The BJP government has helped us increase our earnings,& says Mr. Hussain, who claims to be a supporter of the party.

But the Congress is hoping that Muslim supporters of the BJP like him are few and a majority of them will vote for the Congress candidate, Adambhai Chaki, also a Muslim.

See here the BJP has done a lot of work but a majority of the Muslim votes will go to the Muslim candidate,says Bababhai Hussain, a former sarpanch of Gorewali village.

Bhuj, headquarters of Gujarat's largest district of Kutch, has been electing Neenaben Acharya of the BJP for the past decade.

But the Congress can spring a surprise if its caste arithmetic works. Of the 2.56 lakh voters in the Bhuj constituency, Muslims make up 79,000. Patidars, majority of them Leuva Patels, are present in big numbers with over 34,000 voters. And there are about 23,000 Dalits, who are being wooed by the Congress.

There are about 8000 Kshatriyas, seen as part of the traditional KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) voters of the Congress.

The BJP will win the seat comfortably again and they are well ahead of the Congress,says Tulsi Thakkar, who runs a popular eatery on S.T. Road and is a member of the Lohana community that has over 12,000 votes.

The ruling party's confidence stems from its own internal calculation of voting percentage at the micro level. For example, at the Indirabai Girls High School, there were 1,280 registered votes of which 791 were cast.

Of this, our calculation is that 88 votes belong to minorities and the rest are ours,says a BJP worker, requesting anonymity. kutchhis globally , from Mumbai

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