It’s Hin­dutva, Vikas and caste for BJP in Gu­jarat

Jig­nesh Me­vani and Alpesh Thakor have en­er­gised Congress vot­ers, but not added new vot­ers to the party’s kitty. Hardik Pa­tel is work­ing to mo­bilise ‘dis­grun­tled BJP vot­ers’, but that too largely Pa­tels. Pa­tel vot­ers, in terms of num­bers, mat­ter much less

The Sunday Guardian - - Covert - IANS

Can Congress use caste to chal­lenge BJP’s Hin­dutva-plus-Vikas for­mula in the Gu­jarat elec­tions?

These days, the above ques­tion is de­bated to judge whether, or not, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi will reg­is­ter yet an­other vic­tory in Gu­jarat. Prob­a­bly, the ques­tion has arisen on the ba­sis of the premise that BJP is not us­ing the caste card as much as the Congress. Or, the con­tention is that the caste fac­tor is favour­ing the Congress this time.

But isn’t BJP as “casteist” as its com­peti­tors? By all ac­counts, the BJP is all set to play the caste-card in 2017, as it al­ways does. If Hindu unity un­der the Hin­dutva um­brella is its overt card, it covertly but force­fully man­ages a bal­anced rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the ma­jor castes. An ex­am­ple of this is its vic­tory in Ut­tar Pradesh. The BJP has found a for­mula to ex­ploit con­tra­dic­tory po­lit­i­cal forces—one, that unites Hin­dus, one that di­vides Hin­dus.

This time too it will use the re­al­ity of caste with as much vigour as it will use the Modi card.

Since last one year, when in Gand­hi­na­gar, Amit Shah’s to­tal at­ten­tion has been on dol­ing out power among the var­i­ous sub-castes at the vil­lage and district lev­els. In well-co-or­di­nated moves, with PM Modi, he has re­mained en­gaged in nom­i­nat­ing and reshuf­fling var­i­ous caste lead­ers within the BJP fold, at all lev­els, with an eye on the elec­tion in 2017.

You can fre­quently over­hear Shah in­struct­ing his deputies on the line of “two Dar­bars, three Ko­lis and one Ahir should be in­ducted” in some com­mit­tee or other.

It’s dif­fi­cult to fathom why, in New Delhi the nar­ra­tive is not so sub­stan­tial about Modi-Shah’s grip over Gu­jarati castes and sub-castes and its uses and mis­uses in the bat­tle­field of Gu­jarat.

To understand this bet­ter, take the case of Shamb­huprasad Balde­v­dasji Tundiya, a BJP mem­ber of the Ra­jya Sabha. It’s dif­fi­cult to understand if he is in the Up­per House be­cause of his Hin­dutva cre­den­tials, as he is the chief­tain of the re­li­gious seat of Sant Sav­gun Sa­mad­histhan in Zan­zarka vil­lage, or be­cause he rep­re­sents the Vankars, a sub-caste of Dal­its. The BJP has in its fo­cus his five-lakh staunch Dalit fol­low­ers. Since the mid-17th cen­tury, when Dal­its and other lower caste fam­i­lies trav­elled from other parts of Gu­jarat on pil­grim­age to Dwarka and Som­nath tem­ples, Shamb­hu­nath’s an­ces­tors gave them free board­ing and lodg­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Over decades, a leg­end got built due to the virtues of the saints who led these char­i­ta­ble ac­tiv­i­ties.

There are many such places where so­cial and cul­tural tra­di­tions are pre­served and where caste meets re­li­gion. PM Modi’s visit to Ak­shard­ham tem­ple on 2 Novem­ber was, also, to please the Pa­tels who are the back­bone of Swami­narayan sect.

In the early 1990s, when Naren­dra Modi was the back­room boy in Khan­pur’s BJP head­quar­ters and script­ing Keshub­hai Pa­tel’s rise with help of the up­wardly mo­bile Pati­dar votes, vis­it­ing jour­nal­ists could not miss notic­ing his ap­proach to­wards caste pol­i­tics in Gu- jarati so­ci­ety. He could study caste with the neu­tral eye of an out­sider and play it as only an in­sider could. He has been keep­ing in touch with var­i­ous caste and sub-caste lead­ers and knows their so­cio-cul­tural back­ground.

In many ways, BJP is us­ing lo­cal caste-backed lead­ers and in­ter- con­nected re­li­gious sects and lo­cal sub­sects in these elec­tions too.

Early in his ca­reer, Modi fo­cused on the Gu­jarati caste co­nun­drum and even the lo­cal caste-based lingo that plays its role at the time of elec­tions. Along with Gu­jarat-based RSS stal­warts, Modi had, then, per­fected the plac­ing of castes on the elec­toral chess­board so well that Congress’ sup­port­base of Ksha­triya-Har­i­janA­di­vasi and Mus­lim votes crum­bled.

Ac­cord­ing to a pre-In­de­pen­dence caste-based cen­sus, Gu­jarat had roughly 7% Dal­its, 9% Mus­lims, 14% trib­als, 14% Pati­dars, 5% up­per caste Ra­jputs, and 5% up­per caste Brah­min-Baniyas. Other Back­ward Classes were not lower than 45%, in­clud­ing the big­gest sin­gle bloc—Ko­lis, with 20%.

Take it or leave it, but in Modi’s scheme of things, nei­ther Vikas nor just Hind­tuva cre­den­tials of BJP can­di­dates get votes. If, be­fore the cam­era Modi is seen as quintessen­tially the Hin­dutva poster boy, who is en­gaged in Vikas, be­hind the scenes, he has out­classed the caste game of the Congress in all elec­tions in Gu­jarat since 1995.

In ex­cep­tional cases, Hin- dutva helps more than the caste game, as it hap­pened af­ter the 2002 burn­ing of train in Godhra.

As for Amit Shah, his sole aim long be­fore the elec­tions has been to cre­ate “cred­i­bil­ity” among the max­i­mum num­ber of big and small caste lead­ers and a caste­based cadre, so that their lo­cal lead­ers have trac­tion to take the mes­sage of Modi, Vikas and Hin­dutva to the vot­ers. The cred­i­bil­ity is cre­ated when the re­spec­tive caste lead­ers get firm as­sur­ance that power will per­co­late down to them, too.

While analysing the 2017 Gu­jarat elec­tions, most an­a­lysts are say­ing that since Alpesh Thakor, Jig­nesh Me­vani and Hardik Pa­tel are against the BJP, their re­spec­tive sup­port­ers have given birth to “the anti-BJP vote”. That’s true. Also that there is huge anti-in­cum­bency against the ar­ro­gance of many BJP lead­ers and cor­rup­tion in Gu­jarat’s sys­tem has in­creased since 2012, which has made life dif­fi­cult for the com­mon man. That’s cor­rect, too.

They also say that the Congress is in the de­fault po­si­tion in Gu­jarat, so it will have the “added ad­van­tage” of three celebrity young lead­ers sid­ing with the party. But that isn’t exactly true. Be­cause, Me­vani and Thakor have en­er­gised only the Congress vot­ers. They are not bring­ing in fresh votes into the Congress kitty. It’s only Hardik Pa­tel who is work­ing to mo­bilise “dis­grun­tled BJP vot­ers” to bring them to his side. That too largely Pa- tel vot­ers, who, in terms of num­bers, mat­ter much less than Ko­lis and are just equal to Gu­jarati trib­als.

The Congress will have the caste ad­van­tage only if an over­whelm­ing chunk of young an­gry Pa­tels fol­low Hardik Pa­tel. Even then, the BJP will en­sure that the anti-Pa­tel Thakor vote gets mo­bilised to off­set the loss.

In the 2012 As­sem­bly elec­tions, the BJP, to un­der­cut Keshub­hai Pa­tel’s re­bel­lion, had paci­fied the Pa­tels by giv­ing around 45 seats to them out of 182. BJP had com­pletely sur­ren­dered to the Pa­tel power, then. For long, Modi kept the loud and dom­i­nant Pa­tels un­der con­trol, while ca­jol­ing the OBCs, par­tic­u­larly the Ko­lis. The Pa­tels, who com­prise around 14% of Gu­jarat’s pop­u­la­tion, got an out­ra­geously higher num­ber of tick­ets at around 25%. Thanks to Hardik, they will not get fewer seats this time. And if Congress lead­ers try to give Pa­tels more than their due share, then the sup­port­ers of Alpesh Thakor and Jig­nesh Me­vani will have heart-burns.

Right now, Congress’ best bet is to bank on the “an­ti­in­cum­bency vote”. The BJP’s and the Congress’ list of can­di­dates will give an idea on how the var­i­ous castes will be rep­re­sented this time.

Amit Shah’s aim is to cre­ate “cred­i­bil­ity” among the max­i­mum num­ber of big and small caste lead­ers, so that their lo­cal lead­ers have trac­tion to take the mes­sage of Modi, Vikas and Hin­dutva.


Congress vice-pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi ar­rives to meet traders and weavers on the first an­niver­sary of the note-ban, in Su­rat, Gu­jarat, on Wed­nes­day.

BJP chief Amit Shah dur­ing an elec­tion rally ahead of Gu­jarat As­sem­bly polls in Ahmedabad, on Tues­day.

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