Can Rajkot International Airport Offset Covid Turbulence to Pilot BJP to 6th Win in Gujarat?

The BJP is eyeing a sixth consecutive term in Gujarat and hoping that the Saurashtra International Airport, set for completion this year, will improve its chances of returning to power in PM Narendra Modi’s home state.

Envisioned as a development and export hub, the airport has been projected as a game changer for the region, and the party hopes it would play a similar role in Gujarat as the Jewar Airport did for elections in western Uttar Pradesh.

Drawing a parallel between both airports, Virendra Sachdeva, a member of the good governance cell of the BJP, said referring to recent UP elections: “We had won almost all seats that will see economic growth due to the airport in Jewar. Similarly, this airport will also have an impact on many seats in the region.”

Rajkot, known as the commercial capital of Saurashtra region, is likely to get its first major international airport by the end of this year, bringing in large-scale employment in the region. The airport is likely to be inaugurated by the time the state goes to polls.

But can the airport be a game-changer in Assembly polls in the home state of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah?

“With a runway of 3,040 metres equivalent to Mumbai or Delhi, the airport is set to ensure better air connectivity to the Saurashtra region,” said Arun Mahesh Babu, Rajkot Collector.

One of the major issues the opposition raises before every Gujarat election is that of unemployment. The upcoming international airport is set to boost employment opportunities not just in and around Rajkot and Surendranagar, but in almost 12 districts of the Saurashtra region.

“There is going to be a host of allied activities from ground staff to local businesses, food and beverages to transport business. The locals will be given vocational training and development,” said an official.

BJP’s Poll Performance in Saurashtra

In the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, of the 54 seats across 12 districts in Saurashtra region, 31 were won by the BJP while 21 went to the Congress.

Kutchh has six seats and five of these went to the BJP. Surendranagar has five Assembly seats, of which three went to the BJP. In Morbi, two out of three seats went to the Congress, while BJP could secure only 1 seat.

Rajkot gave seven out of eight seats to the BJP. In Jamnagar, the BJP got three seats out of five and in Dwarka, it netted a duck. Porbandar, out of two, gave one to the BJP. In Junagarh, the BJP got two seats out of sive. In Gir Somnath, the party drew blank on all four seats. Out of five seats in Amreli district, it got one, whereas Bhavnagar compensated by giving the BJP six out of seven seats. In Botad, the BJP secured both seats.

The party is hoping to do better in this region this time, with the jobs and economy generated from the airport expected to offset the economic shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in turn neutralise any anti-incumbency factors, said a senior party leader.

Rajkot is the fourth largest city in Gujarat, known as the hub of manufacturing industries like watch parts and silk embroideries. The ceramic industry of Morbi and other industries of Jamnagar depend heavily on air connectivity.

The existing airport is in the heart of the city but is not capable of serving aircraft larger than Airbus 320 and Boeing 737-800. The new airport is on Ahmedabad-Rajkot highway and has an estimated budget of Rs 1,405 crore. It will be spread over total area of 1,032 hectares with runway length of 3,049 metres for bigger planes. The airport is set to be completed by August-September 2022.

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