The Diamond Workers Union Gujarat (DWUG) has urged artisans to boycott the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the assembly election and vote for parties willing to resolve their long-standing issues.
DWUG chief Ramesh Jilariya said as an umbrella organisation, they have been asking the BJP government to resolve the issues diamond workers face but it did not care. “Over 30 lakh [3 million] diamond artisans from Surat, Navsari, and the districts in the Saurashtra region have been at the receiving end for the last 12 years. It is now or never.”
The union has sent letters to about 25,000 of its members across Gujarat and over 40,000 workers on WhatsApp requesting the boycott.
Jilariya said the BJP government has not implemented labour laws in the industry and the artisans were being exploited. “The demand for abolishing the professional tax on diamond workers in Surat has not be addressed over the last decade or so.”
Surat hosts the world’s largest diamond-cutting and polishing industry, which employs over 600,000 workers. There are over 4,500 big, small and medium diamond factories in Surat’s Katargam and Varachha assembly seats.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded its Gujarat chief Gopal Italia and former Patidar quota agitation leader Alpesh Kathiriya from the two seats.
Surat’s Varachha, Karanj, Katargam and Kamrej assembly constituencies have sizeable population of Patidar voters, including diamond workers. In 2021, AAP won 27 seats in the municipal elections in Surat.
DWUG vice president Bhavesh Tank said government gives compensation to the families of those killed in the accidents and mishaps. “But it is shying away from giving financial assistance to the families of the diamond workers committing suicide due to unemployment.”
He said AAP won the 27 seats in Patidar-dominated areas. “The majority of the diamond workers voted against BJP as their demand for professional tax waiver, implementation of labour laws, etc was not met.”
Surat Diamond Association secretary Damji Mavani said the diamond workers were facing issues but it remains to be seen how effective DWUG’s call will be.
A BJP leader, who spoke on anonymity of anonymity, said the union’s office-bearers wanted the BJP to give the ticket to some candidates from the diamond industry. “But we repeated renominated lawmakers Kumar Kanani in Varachha and Vinu Moradiya in Katargam. This irked DWUG and is instigating the diamond workers.”
On Wednesday, leaders of shepherd Maldhari community leaders called for BJP’s to boycott, accusing the party of ignoring its demands.