The BJP may have publicly listed about 35 star campaigners for Gujarat, but apart from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there's really only one other the party considers pure gold.

Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has been a fixture of the campaign in South Gujarat and, in particular, Surat. For the non-Gujarati, saffron robe-wearing monk, the target audience is the multitude of migrants from Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Avinash Singh, 22, has just moved to Surat from Deoria in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. He says he feels "a sense of pride" in a leader from the region being given such eminence in Prime Minister Modi's bid for Gujarat. It is a sentiment widely shared by young people in search of a respectable identity in a new place far more modern and affluent than they are used to.

Gujarat has 1 crore Hindi-speaking migrants, according to recent estimates; 60 percent of them are registered as voters. They are capable of deciding nearly 20 assembly seats (Gujarat has a total of 182) between Valsad in the south to Ahmedabad.

Most of them live and work in industrial ghettos like Pandesara in Surat. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, it was one of the areas scorched by Hindu-Muslim violence. More than 150 people, mainly Muslims from North India were killed in three days in Surat, mainly in Pandesara and Vijaynagar. When the next major communal riot erupted in Gujarat in 2002, Surat held its own. "The business community was so determined to prevent a repeat of 1992 that no factory or industrial unit shut down even for a single day," says Rajiv Bansal owner of a large power-loom unit in Pandesara. Surat's solidarity is to its commerce - its diamond and textile factories and the hundreds of businesses that are part of the supply chain for both.

So far, in this election, Yogi has held five public meetings in and around Surat, whose largest commercial entities are owned by Patels. Prodded ardently by Hardik Patel, age 24, the youth in this influential community, appears willing to vote for the Congress. Older generations may not disagree with Hardik Patel's demand for affirmative action policies to be extended to them, but they seem skittish about ending their seasoned affiliation with the BJP which has survived two decades.

Chief Editor: Gurcharan Singh Babbar
Associate Editor: Rajesh Mangal

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