A 20-year-old’s challenge to Vikas in Gujarat

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sagar with hardik (1)He might not have ever imagined that his causal comment ‘Vikas Gando Thayo Che’ (Development has gone crazy) would go on to give the BJP jitters ahead of the assembly polls. The Facebook post of the 20-year-old engineering student, Sagar Savaliya, not only went viral but triggered panic within the ruling BJP that used development as a plank in Gujarat elections for a long time.

In fact, Gujarat BJP’s 2017 assembly election slogan ‘Hu Chu Vikas, Hu Chu Gujarat’ (I am development, I am Gujarat) was coined by the ruling party to counter the sarcastic jibes over several months, that had sent the social media in a tizzy.

Sagar, who belongs to the influential Patidar community, was a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi till August 2015. He had even campaigned for the BJP during the 2014 general elections. What led to a 180 degree turn in his stand was the violence that erupted in many cities of Gujarat following the massive rally of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) led by leader Hardik Patel in Ahmedabad. His first hand experience of police brutality on his family and community members changed his life completely.

The term ‘vikas’ or ‘development’ had become synonymous with Prime Minister Modi, also former chief minister of Gujarat, as he used it extensively in all his speeches and discourses. He was the one who, when he was heading Gujarat, had first coined the term ‘Vikas ki rajniti’ (politics of development) and challenged the then UPA government and Congress leaders to compete with him over development issues on several occasions. Development was the major plank used by Modi during the 2014 general elections that brought the BJP to power at the Centre with a thumping majority.

Though Sagar did not expect that the ‘Vikas gando thayo che’ comment would go viral in such a way, but the ‘Vikas’ jokes that have personified BJP and PM Modi’s favourite ‘development’ plank have had thousands in splits. It should be known that this humour stemmed from immense trauma and pain that the 20-year-old resident of Ahmedabad underwent.

Sagar lives in Patidar-dominated Bapunagar area of eastern Ahmedabad. Narrating the 2015 incident when Hardik Patel’s arrest sparked rioting and arson in Patidar-dominated localities in Ahmedabad and other cities, he said, “Till 2014 Lok Sabha elections, I was a die-hard BJP supporter and hardcore Modi fan. I had Modi’s picture in my Whatsapp display picture. But everything changed after the Patidar agitation rally on August 25, 2015. That night police turned tormentors and I was witness to their ill treatment meted out the protesters,” Sagar said.

“When rioting and arson broke out in my area early on the morning of August 26, we were extremely scared. Some people entered our house and started vandalizing it. We thought they were some anti-social elements but later got to know that they were policemen. My brother and I had hidden in the bathroom,” he said.

“Police even locked us in our own house before leaving. We were so frightened and shocked by all this that when even neighbours knocked at our door, we thought the same people had returned. This incident has left a permanent scar in my mind and shattered all the illusions that I had about BJP governance,” Sagar added.

The engineering student then joined Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and became its active member with the sole agenda of
defeating the BJP. It was a few months ago that he came across a picture on social media of Gujarat State Transport bus that suddenly broke down after its rear wheels came off.

“I just uploaded this picture on Facebook and captioned it as ‘Have Vikas Gaando thayo che’ (now development has gone mad),” said Sagar, who himself was surprised at the massive attention his casual comment had got on the social media. This set off a deluge of pictures of all kinds of civic problems and poking sarcasm at ‘Vikas’.

Emboldened by the response, Sagar started a separate Facebook page called Befaam News Channel (Befaam in Gujarati means careless) which has a logo of a roaring lion. “This page was earlier called Befaam Virodhi but later I changed it to Befaam News Channel,” he said. He also has a youtube and twitter account by this same name.

Sagar laments that government was not doing enough for employment and education. “The big question for me and other youngsters is will we get a decent job. Even in the existing reserved category, there are many who are financially capable of getting good education and jobs. Government should ensure that only the needy, whether Patidar or others, should get admission in government colleges as well as employment.”

Recently, when Hardik Patel’s alleged ‘sex video’ cropped up on social media, several messages went viral. One interesting message was “If sex CDs can help win elections, Sunny Leone would be the Prime Minister of India. If you don’t want to place orders for video shooting of marriages, then let us know.

Vikas has now started video editing and shooting.” This was among the many jibes at the ruling BJP with ‘vikas’ hashtag. Ever since Modi, who was hounded by criticism for presiding over the state during the post-Godhra riots, hopped on to the development plank never had
anyone else dared to make fun of something that was close to the hearts of Modi’s fans.

Congress conveniently tried to hijack the Vikas campaign as its own. Rahul Gandhi too latched on to it during his campaign trail in the state. “Vikas Ko Kya Hua Hai Gujarat mein? (What has happened to development in Gujarat?),” he asked people from the dais during his Navsarjan Yatra across state and the audience thundered in chorus “Vikas Pagal Ho Gaya Hai (Vikas has gone mad).” But that didn’t really matter for young Patidars like Sagar whose single-point agenda was to wipe out the BJP from the state.

Whether the sarcasm did actually help drift voters away from BJP cannot be said with surety, but the campaign generated a buzz enough to irritate the saffron leaders.

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