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Gujarat Assembly elections 2017: Will the Modi wave succumb to caste politics?

Gujarat Assembly elections 2017: Will the Modi wave succumb to caste politics?

By Guriya

After sweeping the votes in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) is bracing itself for another battle on its home ground—Gujarat. Much has changed in Gujarat since its beloved Chief Minister donned the Prime Minister’s hat.

Remembering BJP’s golden era in Gujarat

Gujarat has been under BJP’s rule for the last 19 years, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 12-year long tenure. The last three assembly elections have been a clear indicator of BJP’s dominance over the state.The party has been able to retain a vote share of 48.3% in the last elections with the Indian National Congress (INC) having 40.9% of the vote share. The BJP won the state in terms of the seat share but the INC, given its previous vote share, emerges as a tough competitor in the forthcoming elections. The BJP would like to close the year 2017 with another groundbreaking win in Gujarat, thus laying a strong foundation for the general elections in 2019.

BJP in the soup

One of the worrying reasons for the BJP is its loss of dominance in the rural areas. The election results to the taluka panchayats were distressing for the BJP—its share, in terms of seats, slipped from 150 in 2010 to just 67 in 2015. The tier three setback can have ripple effects in the assembly elections. However, party president Amit Shah has been optimistic since the Uttar Pradesh victory and has announced a target of 150 seats in the upcoming Gujarat elections—a target higher than the party’s best at 128 seats (2002 legislative elections). Such optimism seems valid in light of the constant work of the party leadership in the other states.

Gujarat turned topsy-turvy after Modi’s departure

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi left for Delhi in 2014, the state has seen separate uprisings by upper-caste Patels who have been party’s strongest electoral supporters as well as Dalits. Since mid-2015, the Patidar community, seeking Other Backward Class (OBC) status, has been holding public demonstrations across Gujarat. The Patel community has boycotted BJP’s Patel leaders. Ministers like Nitin Patel and Saurabh Patel were not allowed to hold public rallies; they were barred from many Patel-dominated areas and publicly humiliated. One of the reasons for the resignation of the former Chief Minister, Anandiben Patel, was her inability to handle the Patidar agitation.

A similar protest took place in a Dalit rally in Ahmedabad where the protestors surrounded the homes of Dalit MP Kirit Solanki and Rajnikant Patel, the MLA of Asarva area. The events show retaliation from the people in the state which might be a road block for the BJP in the upcoming elections. While Patidars are 12% of the entire Gujarat population making them a strong voter base. Patels, Dalits, and Muslims collectively constitute 32% of the state’s population. Their resentment against the party can cost the BJP dearly in the forthcoming elections.

Congress’ Gujarat gamble and AAP’s ramble

The party’s concern becomes two-fold—the Congress leaders openly supporting the Patidar agitation and organising “Daman Pratikar Rally” against police action on the members of the community in Ahmedabad and Mehsana. This might sway the Patidars towards the only other dominant party in the state. Congress realises that this is the most opportune moment to win Gujarat. This was pointed out by Sonia Gandhi’s political advisor, Ahmed Patel, at a public meeting in Anand, “If we don’t win this election, we may not win another election again in Gujarat,” he said. The agility of the opposition is a challenge for the party and more so for the Prime Minister because his leadership in Gujarat over the years has been one of the foundations of BJP’s victory in the general elections of 2014.

With the two main parties battling it out in the state; one to maintain its incumbency and the other to gain confidence, a new entrant in the state might be disturbing to both. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been desperately trying to break through the state’s political situation and make it a three-way fight. The entry of AAP in the state could increase the challenges for BJP—though not considerably, but marginally.

Modi: A silver-lining for the BJP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent road show in Surat can be seen as the party’s first step towards kicking off the campaign for the upcoming elections. In the two-day event, PM Modi addressed a gathering of Patidars and inaugurated a diamond hub owned by Savji Dholakia, also a Patidar and one of the country’s largest diamond exporters. The party has already set out to address the Patidar issue and is trying to act pragmatically under the leadership of PM Modi. PM Modi has made eight visits in the past nine months to the home state.  The party will try to achieve the “150 target” despite the challenges. But after 22 years, it is going to be a tough fight for the BJP in Gujarat.

Featured Image Source – Visual Hunt

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