IDEN­TITY POL­I­TICS: NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Lo­cal OBC leader is a big hit in Thakore com­mu­nity in Gu­jarat, re­ports

The Economic Times - - Saturday Feature -

Iden­tity pol­i­tics is stag­ing a re­turn in Gu­jarat with both the Pa­tel and Thakore com­mu­nity steadily mo­bi­liz­ing their mem­bers, os­ten­si­bly on so­cial causes, but with the po­lit­i­cal agenda barely con­cealed.

A lot has al­ready been writ­ten about the me­te­oric rise of Hardik Pa­tel but the par­al­lel case of Alpesh Thakore has been al­most as fast and sys­tem­atic. In the last few months, Thakore has been mak­ing a name for him­self cam­paign­ing for de-ad­dic­tion and spread­ing ed­u­ca­tion in his com­mu­nity and in the process tight­en­ing his grip over the com­mu­nity.

Son of a lo­cal Congress leader, Alpesh (40) launched his Vyasan­mukti Ab­hiyan (de-ad­dic­tion drive) at a mega rally on Jan­uary 26 in Ahmed­abad and since then his Thakore Sena claims it has car­ried out hun­dreds of Janta raids on il­le­gal liquor dens. Alpesh says the num­ber could be around 1700. Thakore makes no bones ad­mit­ting that the so­cial cause is only a façade for his po­lit­i­cal agenda. “Come 2017, we will de­cide who the Chief Min­is­ter of Gu­jarat will be,” he says.

The Thakore Sena has spread across 9000 vil­lages in Gu­jarat and the pan-com­mu­nity OBC SC ST Ekta Manch has cov­ered 3000 more vil­lages, he claims. “We in­tend to cover all 18,000 vil­lages of Gu­jarat and form sami­tis,” Alpesh says.

Jux­ta­pose this with the mas­sive Pati­dar rally in Ahmed­abad on Au­gust 25 last and the vi­o­lence that fol­lowed and the ma­trix as­sumes a sin­is­ter tone. When the state gov­ern­ment in­car­cer­ated Pati­dar leader Hardik Pa­tel and his as­so­ci­ates, anger erupted across the com­mu­nity. Whi le t he T h a kor e s h ave t hei r Vyasan­mukti Ab­hiyan, the Pati­dar com­mu­nity has been busy mo­bi­liz­ing it­self across Saurash­tra through Ekta Ya­tra and other pro­grammes. “We are work­ing in ru­ral ar­eas and reach­ing out to a max­i­mum num­ber of peo­ple. Only spo­rad­i­cally we hold big events like the one we had in Mehsana re­cently where we had a women’s meet,” says Pati­dar Ana­mat An­dolan Samiti (PAAS) spokesper­son Varun Pa­tel.

With both com­mu­ni­ties on the as­cen­dant, there are ris­ing con­cerns of a pos­si­ble con­fronta­tion. “Ear­lier, the com­mu­nity, de­spite its large num­bers, avoided con­fronta­tions with the police, but now equa­tions are chang­ing and the ero­sion of fear for law en­forc­ing agency does not auger too well for the state polity,” says a se­nior leader of BJP, who pre­ferred to re­main anony­mous. “The di­rec­tion of these Janta raids are get­ting con­fronta­tional and can lead to ma­jor law­less­ness in the state in days to come,” he adds.

On the sur­face, both na­tional par­ties the BJP and the Congress en­dorse the drive against il­le­gal liquor dens. “When­ever some­one does some­thing good for the so­ci­ety, we are all for it. The drive for dead­dic­tion is a good move for the com­mu­nity and we shall in no way put a hur­dle to that,” said Gu­jarat BJP vice pres­i­dent IK Jadeja.

But Alpesh has an­other fight on his hands. “Most of these liquor dens are run by peo­ple from our com­mu­nity. While the small guys are grad­u­ally giv­ing up, the big ones are yet to come around,” he ad­mits. Ne­go­ti­at­ing with the big guns has not al­ways been easy and once in a while vi­o­lent clashes break out. Only re­cently, Thakore Sena had blocked a high­way in North Gu­jarat af­ter its ac­tivists were at­tacked by a lo­cal boot­leg­ger be­long­ing to the Thakore com­mu­nity it­self. But these skir­mishes are help­ing Alpesh and his men flex their mus­cles more ag­gres­sively.

The pop­u­lar­ity of his drive has seen the Pati­dars too jump into the de-ad­dic­tion cam­paign. But the re­cently con­cluded Ekta Ya­tra in Saurash­tra re­gion barely con­cealed com­mu­nity mo­bi­liza­tion ahead of the 2017 elec­tion. Last year, the Pati­dars showed their anger by vot­ing against the BJP in the lo­cal bod­ies’ elec­tions. Congress won 22 of the 31 dis­trict pan­chay­ats and 126 of 230 taluka pan­chay­ats, leav­ing six dis­trict pan­chay­ats and 65 taluka pan­chay­ats for BJP. Ear­lier, BJP held 30 of 31 dis­trict pan­chay­ats and 194 of 220 taluka pan­chay­ats.

Now the BJP is try­ing to re­gain lost ground. The con­tro­ver­sial speech of JNU stu­dent leader Umar Khalid was played out at a cou­ple of farmer ral­lies in the state re­cently to whip up na­tion­al­ist fer­vour and come April 6, the foun­da­tion day of the party, BJP will take out Bharat Mata Gau­rav Kooch across 18 places in the state.

Caste en­gi­neer­ing by Congress stal­wart Mad­havs­inh Solanki brought to­gether the Ksha­triya, Har­i­jan, Adi­vasi and Mus­lims (KHAM) to­gether help­ing the Congress regis­ter its big­gest ever elec­toral win in the his­tory of Gu­jarat Assem­bly in 1985. The price of the vic­tory was the part­ing of ways with the pow­er­ful Pa­tels.

Re­cently, to re­gai n t he sup­port of Pati­dars, Congress not only in­tro­duced a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill seek­ing 20 per­cent reser­va­tion for ex­tremely back­ward castes dur­ing the bud­get ses­sion, but MLAs en­tered the House wear­ing caps that said ‘Jai Sar­dar Jai Pati­dar’. They also of­fered lol­ly­pops to Pa­tel min­is­ters, mock­ing the pack­age an­nounced by the Chief Min­is­ter to pacify the agi­ta­tors.

“Of course there is strong resur­gence of caste based iden­tity pol­i­tics in Gu­jarat,” says Ahmed­abad based writer and aca­demi­cian Achyut Yag­nik. He said it was ironic that this has hap­pened at a time the lines di­vid­ing the castes were be­gin­ning to get blurred due to rapid ur­ban­iza­tion in the state, he adds. “So far the pol­i­tics has not been con­fronta­tional, but given the fact that the Pati­dars in ru­ral ar­eas are largely land own­ers while the Thako­res and oth­ers are largely land­less work­ers any mis­ad­ven­ture from ei­ther side can turn the situation con­fronta­tional and that is not a nice pos­si­bil­ity to think about,” he cau­tions.

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