Caste card will decide the game, BJP’s votebank is divided now
By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani
Ahmedabad: BJP national president and so-called ‘Chanakaya’ Amit Shah will contest from Gandhinagar, a seat represented by seniormost BJP patriarch L.K. Advani six times in the past. BJP will however face a tough battle from Congress Party this time, which had been trounced failing to win a single seat against BJP’s 26 seats in 2014 parliamentary polls.
Congress Party may play the trump card of three young leaders to woo the voters from their communities. It may be known that BJP’s votebank is now divided among different communities and the party has been trying hard to keep the flock intact.
The BJP in Gujarat got all 26 seats in the last Lok Sabha polls that were held in 2014, and the clean sweep by the saffron party was only because of Modi wave that prevailed in that time. The situation is bit different this time as the BJP’s vote bank has now been divided among different communities even as the party is trying extremely hard to woo them back into its fold. In short, the polls in Gujarat will be held, won or lost on caste card.
Congress Party kicks off campaign from Gujarat
The opposition Congress Party also seems to be focused on Gujarat as it is the home state of Modi-Shah duo. This could also be the reason for the party’s campaign launching from Gujarat as the first ever poll rally after the announcement of elections was held in the state’s capital Gandhinagar. An entire array of top brass from Congress Party including president Rahul Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi addressed the voters in the state during the rally.
The Congress Party has been trying to appeal to the voters of Gujarat on the issues like the agrarian crisis, farmers’ debt, unemployment, GST and demonetisation. These are the same issues that the party raised during Gujarat polls too and could help Congress Party win some more seats. However, the party was not able to form the government in the state as the urban voters remained with the incumbent BJP.
BJP suspects scoring 26-0 this time
The BJP leaders in Gujarat have been given the target of winning all 26 seats in Gujarat by their party supremos but the state leaders have also categorised five seats as weak seats. The BJP, therefore, is very cautious while selecting the candidates on these seats so that the party does not lose the score on a silly point. Amreli, Anand, Banaskantha, Junagadh and Patan are the seats where the agrarian crisis or caste card will play the major role and the party is putting extra efforts on these seats.
Defection before polls
The Congress Party in Gujarat faced a major jolt just before the Lok Sabha polls as five MLAs defected to BJP. The saffron party also tried to bring in its fold Alpesh Thakor and three of his colleagues in Assembly, but things did not materialise. There is yet one more possibility that heavyweight OBC leader and Limbdi MLA Somabhai Koli Patel could switch his loyalty for Lok Sabha ticket from Surendranagar seat and BJP leaders are reportedly in contact with him. These defections can prove lethal on the morale of Congress workers in the state.
‘Vikas’ mantra of BJP
The BJP has adopted the same agenda for the campaign in these polls and that is ‘Vikas’ (development). The party has been claiming to have succeeded in changing lives of poor people in last five years through many of the central government schemes such as Ujjvala Yojana, Ujala, PM JAY, pension scheme, Kisan Sanman Nidhi, PM Fasal Bima Yojana, sanitation campaign and others. The party in Gujarat is also presenting the rosy picture before the voters by showcasing PM Narendra Modi-led government’s support to Gujarat by giving permission for fitting piers on Sardar Sarovar Dam in fifteen days of taking charge at Center, Bullet Train Project, AIMS in Gujarat, international airports in Rajkot and Surat, metro rails in Ahmedabad and Surat, world’s tallest Statue of Unity and many others.
Gujarat’s politics was dominated by the Patel community before the rise of Narendra Modi and the influence of the Patidar or Patels was more in BJP as they remained loyal to the party. However, Modi gave equal importance to OBC communities in the state by giving them equal representation in the party and his government. This was his strategy to weaken the base of Congress Party in Gujarat as OBC community was the votebank for Congress Party in Gujarat.
Patel community, however, showed a swing in the mood and their political tending remained with Congress Party under the influence of quota agitation by Hardik Patel. The BJP, however, has managed to regain the confidence of Patidar voters with the formula of announcement of Economically Backward Class (EBC) quota in government jobs and education announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and EBC commission established by Gujarat government.
Two major OBC communities Koli in Saurashtra and South Gujarat and Thakor in North Gujarat are the key factors that will decide the fate of both the parties in the state. The community showers vote on the candidate who is one of them, and therefore the cherry-picking exercise in candidate selection for both the parties will remain crucial here.
Hardik-Alpesh-Jignesh with Congress
The community leaders like Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani are with the Congress Party now. It is likely that all these three may contest the polls from Gujarat on Congress’ ticket. Congress may play the trump card of these three leaders to woo the voters from their communities. It is, however, up to voters of Gujarat who have the nature to keep the cards close to their chest giving no clue to political parties.
Internal clash in Congress Party
Those MLAs who left Congress recently and those who were to leave (like Alpesh Thakor) complained internal clash in Gujarat Congress. This is the issue that Congress in Gujarat has been facing since they were out of the power in the state. Many leaders and few workers in the party are again a challenge and internal rift among the leaders have divided the entire party into different factions. Congress’ loss in Gujarat is also because of the same reason and that would prevail in Lok Sabha polls again. The same may become more intense when the party would give the mandate to a particular candidate disappointing others from a rival faction within the party.
All is not well in BJP too
It is not like there is no voice of retaliation on BJP. Many of the leaders faced a great disappointment when defecting Congress MLAs were made ministers within a few hours of joining BJP. The party leaders expressed their disagreement before the state leadership in different ways. These dissidents may throw a challenge to party during Lok Sabha polls but the value of self-discipline that their leader Narendra Modi has inculcated in them through different ways and that would not let them cross the party line. The only Muslim who has been elected to the Lok Sabha from Gujarat more than once is Ahmedbhai Mohammedbhai Patel, better known as Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel. He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977, 1980 and 1985 from Bharuch but in 1989 and 1991, lost at the polls from the same seat. Thereafter, he moved to the Rajya Sabha to which he has been elected five times – the last time in August 2018 in a fiercely contested poll. Patel has reportedly told confidants, including some journalists, that it is now well-nigh impossible for a Muslim to get into the Lok Sabha from Gujarat.
The BJP may still pull in adivasi votes, drawing on its deep networks. But one community stands in utter and sullen aloofness: the Muslims of Gujarat. They say the ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ slogan rings hollow when seen against what they perceive as wilful neglect of their habitations. Juhapura in Ahmedabad is perhaps Asia’s largest Muslim ghetto and home to half of the city’s Muslims. Lying along NH-8A, the Metro has given it a miss too. Haji Asrar Beg Mirza, corporator of Makhdampur ward, claims there wasn’t even a single public toilet or garden in the area. “There are 20-25 gardens in neighbouring Vasna and a number of public toilets. One public toilet came up in Juhapura last year after much effort. But yes, Juhapura is home to several police stations, and offices of the special operations group and a deputy commissioner of police too,” he says.
Juhapura also got its first government high school only last year. “The place is home to 3.5 lakh people, but it took a long time to get the school. Its first public library opened on March 7,” Mirza says. Shakeel Adi of the Minority Coordination Committee (MCC) says it’s a struggle to get things done. “There is no department in Gujarat that looks after minority affairs. Some 150 madrassas cater to 50,000 students, but once they pass out, they are not eligible for admission anywhere for higher studies: the Gujarat Board does not recognise the madrassa degree. We need public schools and health centres. We just want full implementation of the PM’s new 15-point programme,” says Adi.
[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is Editor of Gujarat Siyasat. He is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad and regularly contributes to IndianMuslimObserver.com – India’s First Online Muslim Newspaper. He can be reached at [email protected]]