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In the 1980s, then Gu­jarat chief min­is­ter Mad­havs­inh Solanki cre­ated a vote-catch­ing acro­nym that worked for the Congress party, KHAM, which sought to ad­dress Ksha­triyas, Dal­its (the acro­nym was based on their de­scrip­tion as “Har­i­jan”), Adi­va­sis and Mus­lims as one con­sol­i­dated vote bank. The for­mula worked, with the party win­ning 149 of the 182 seats in the Gu­jarat assem­bly in 1985. More than 30 years later, Congress lead­ers are speak­ing of a KHAP for­mula, where Mus­lims have been re­placed by Pa­tels, who had once aligned com­pletely with the BJP. But the three young men who are prime in­ter­preters of Gu­jarat’s mal­adies have lit­tle or noth­ing to do with the Congress orig­i­nally. There is Hardik Pa­tel, at 24 too young to contest elec­tions, but lead­ing the pow­er­ful Pa­tel com­mu­nity in Gu­jarat as head of the Pati­dar Ana­mat An­dolan Samiti; Alpesh Thakor, 40, who is ar­tic­u­lat­ing the angst of Ksha­triyas/ Thakors and has joined the Congress; and Jig­nesh Me­vani, 36, who is high­light­ing the dis­sat­is­fac­tion among Dal­its and led the Dalit As­mita Ya­tra af­ter the hor­rific at­tack on some young mem­bers of his caste in Una in 2016.

At the root of this angst is the pol­i­tics of griev­ance. Although Gu­jarat as a state has shown im­pres­sive GDP growth, it has lagged be­hind in hu­man devel­op­ment in­dices. A ris­ing tide lifts all boats but not nec­es­sar­ily equally. Though Pa­tels, who form 14 per cent of Gu­jarat’s pop­u­la­tion, have ben­e­fited from lib­er­al­i­sa­tion, a cer­tain as­pi­ra­tional sec­tion feels its growth has been re­stricted by reser­va­tion. Young Hardik, born post-lib­er­al­i­sa­tion, has been able to ar­tic­u­late this long­stand­ing de­mand best, in the most au­then­tic way pos­si­ble through 250 ral­lies since Fe­bru­ary 2016. As Deputy Ed­i­tor Uday Mahurkar, a sea­soned ob­server of Gu­jarat pol­i­tics, points out, he is able to switch di­alects and work crowds, and even over­come at­tempts to sleaze-shame him with the re­lease of three so-called sex CDs. Mis­han­dling by Anandiben Pa­tel’s govern­ment has also contributed to his aura—he has sur­vived ten months of im­pris­on­ment and was even ex­terned from the state. Hardik has been able to spin all this as ev­i­dence of tanashahi (ar­ro­gance), a mes­sage that the BJP has un­for­tu­nately un­der­lined re­peat­edly, es­pe­cially in the in­sid­i­ous way it tried to en­sure Ahmed Pa­tel’s de­feat in the re­cent Ra­jya Sabha re-elec­tion.

A large sec­tion of Dal­its had de­serted the Congress for the BJP; the Congress hopes Me­vani will bring them back. It is the same with Thakurs and Thakor. Congress vice-pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi hopes this rain­bow coali­tion will re­in­state the Congress in a state where it last held power 27 years ago. What is hap­pen­ing in Gu­jarat is symp­to­matic of what po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Christophe Jaf­frelot calls the sec­ond wave of democ­racy, which be­gan in the 1970s with the de­cline of Congress at the Cen­tre. The broad­en­ing of so­cial hori­zons and the deep­en­ing of caste af­fil­i­a­tions saw the slow demise of an elite­dom­i­nated pol­i­tics. In north In­dia, it was ev­i­dent in the rise of Lalu Ya­dav’s op­po­si­tion to caste/ class priv­i­lege, in Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav’s peas­ant-cum-caste iden­tity and in Mayawati’s Dalit power. It is not clear what di­rec­tion this so­cial trans­for­ma­tion will take in Gu­jarat, but there is no doubt that it has dis­turbed the BJP’s mono­lithic mar­ket­ing of Hin­dutva.

Elec­tions in Gu­jarat are sig­nif­i­cant not only be­cause of the high stakes for Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, who was chief min­is­ter for 12 years, but also for BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah, who is com­ing off a stun­ning vic­tory in Ut­tar Pradesh. In ad­di­tion, Rahul Gandhi has shown un­com­mon com­mit­ment to the state vot­ers so far. There are im­por­tant is­sues at play in this elec­tion. Will the caste mo­bil­i­sa­tion and in­evitable anti-in­cum­bency of 22 years in Gu­jarat over­come the charisma of Modi and his Hin­dutva-ori­ented pan-na­tion­al­ism wrapped in a mes­sage of devel­op­ment? Will the out­come give a much-needed boost to the wilt­ing Congress? Re­sults on De­cem­ber 18 will be a har­bin­ger of the way pol­i­tics will un­fold till the next Gen­eral Elec­tion in 2019.

(Aroon Purie)

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