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Gujarat Election 2017

Gujarat Elections: Modi’s team forced to redraw its election strategy

There are only around 9% Dalits and BJP leaders maintain this can be countered by some inroads that it is making into the Tribal ( 15%) vote bank.

Updated: Nov 17, 2017, 01.20 AM IST
NEW DELHI: With the rise of activists like Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani reviving the caste narrative in Gujarat and Congress, after drawing lessons from the past, refusing to be drawn into a polarised debate, BJP has been forced to change its strategy.

BJP chief Amit Shah is repeatedly talking about how Congress focused on KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) to win elections in the past. Kshatriyas in Gujarat have been opposed to Patels and with Congress trying to get Hardik Patel on its side, BJP feels emphasising on the differences between the two castes will drive a wedge in the opposition camp.

Kshatriyas in Gujarat fall in the OBC category, while the Patidars have been demanding backward status to avail of the reservations. Moreover, Alpesh Thakor is an OBC leader whose interest may come into conflict with that of Hardik Patel. The senior-most leaders in Congress, like Bharatsinh Solanki and Shaktisinh Gohil, are Kshatriyas. Shankarsinh Vaghela, another Kshatriya stalwart, was with Congress till a few months back. BJP is worried about the Patels — who have overwhelmingly voted for it in the previous elections — switching over to the Congress camp in these elections. As a result, Hardik Patel has become a prime target with alleged sex CDs surfacing before the polls. Fissures in the Patidar camp have also come to the fore with some dissenting voices rising against Hardik. While it is not clear if BJP has any role in the dissensions, its leaders are of the view that their party will benefit from these developments.

BJP has been able to defeat Congress by countering KHAM with polarisation, where religion has overridden caste. Patels, who constitute around 15% of the electorate, have played a major role along with upper castes like Brahmins and Banias (around 10%). Among OBCs, BJP feels Kolis — the caste that constitutes 20% of the electorate and to which President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, belongs — will vote for it. The party is also banking on a number of other backward castes from the state.

Congress has not fallen into the trap of polarising the elections. Statements like “Merchant of Death” against PM Modi have been avoided and it has made lack of conspicuous development and failure to deliver the promises made its main poll plank.

Congress VP Rahul Gandhi has visited temples, leading BJP to allege it is not natural for him and he is doing so for votes. With Muslims constituting only 9%, Congress is aware that polarisation will not pay dividends. BJP is not much concerned about losing the Dalit votes in the wake of the Una incident. There are only around 9% Dalits and BJP leaders maintain this can be countered by some inroads that it is making into the Tribal ( 15%) vote bank.

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