Banking too much on Patidars may backfire on Congress
Hardik may be a deliberate trap laid by BJP, ensuring that he publicly declares support for Congress.
The Gujarat Assembly elections are bound to generate excitement, being the home state of Narendra Modi. Like any other state in India, caste and religion, apart from issues such as GST, demonetisation, economic development will be the main factors in determining the outcome of the election.
The major social groups in the state are 7% Dalits; 9% Muslims; 15% tribals; Darbars and Rajputs, combined with 11% Thakores (OBCs) are around 16%. The total is 47%, and these constitute the main social base of the Congress. In any Gujarat election, the actual polling percentage of SCs, Muslims and tribals is at least 8-10% higher than other social groups. Patidars (16%) with urban upper castes (10%) like Banias, Brahmins and Jains, totalling around 26%, comprise the traditional support base of the BJP. Other castes including non Thakore OBCs are 27% and decide the outcome of the elections.
The Congress is feeling enthused by the Patidars’ perceived disenchantment with BJP due to the death of 14 Patidars in police action during a job quota agitation led by Hardik Patel; and because it thinks the urban upper castes have been affected by demonetisation and GST. Congress strategists have convinced Rahul Gandhi that the three young faces, namely, Alpesh Thakor, Jignesh Mevani and Hardik Patel representing OBCs, SCs and Patidars, re- spectively, will result in victory in Gujarat, leading to a possible defeat of Modi in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019. They feel that Hardik Patel’s support will substantially add Patidar voters to Congress’ kitty, while narrowing the BJP’s support base. These strategists seem to have succeeded in selling this hypothesis to the Delhi based “liberal and secular English media” as well, thus making them ecstatic.
However, caste equations in Gujarat do not work in such a straight- forward manner. Alpesh, a Thakore, and Jignesh, a radical Bhambi Dalit, do not bring any real value addition to the Congress, with both castes being Congress supporters. In fact, Jignesh’s open support to Congress may deter all castes other than Bhambi Dalits, from voting for Congress because of his radical background. Similarly, the Patidars will not support the Congress if the Kshatriyas are supporting it, and vice versa, because of their inherent hostility.
Though the Patidars have genuine reasons to be annoyed with BJP, but they are also the biggest beneficiaries of the economic development during BJP rule. So it is doubtful if the majority of them will vote for Congress. In Gujarat, there is also a perception that the emergence of the Patidar agitation was the result of BJP’s internal power struggle, but was not intended to weaken the party. With top Congress leaders being Kshatriyas, the prospect of a Kshatriya becoming the Chief Minister in case Congress comes to power, will deter the Patidars from voting for the party. I have a feeling that Hardik is a deliberate trap laid by BJP, ensuring that he publicly declares support for Congress, thus confusing Kshatriyas and Thakores.
Shankarsinh Vaghela is the tallest Kshatriya leader in the state. He recently left the Congress and floated his own Jan Vikalp Party. He has a better hold on Kshtariya voters than Bharat Solanki or Shaktisinh Gohil, the two top Congress leaders in the state, especially in north and central Gujarat. His group is likely to win fiveplus seats, besides spoiling Congress’ chances in several constituencies.
Over the years, BJP has successfully wooed non-Thakore OBCs, non-Bhambi SCs, besides a substantial chunk of tribals of South Gujarat. Anecdotal evidence shows that the poor and lower middle classes are not unhappy with demonetisation, whereas GST has not been viewed negatively by people other than the trading classes and those who were profiting from tax evasion. Unnoticed by the media, social security schemes such as PM’s life insurance and pension schemes, Ujjawala scheme and rural electrification have created a mass support base for BJP among the poor and lower middle classes. Congress emphasising too much on Patidars may result in consolidating the OBCs, including Thakores, in favour of BJP.
Most Muslims, who perceive Modi as their ideological enemy, have no choice but to support Congress. The majority of Muslims in Gujarat are artisans and skilled workers. Muslims from the lower and middle classes have been the biggest beneficiaries of the state’s speedy economic development in a riot free atmosphere in the past 15 years in a state notorious for recurring communal riots. Even then, BJP is unlikely to get 10% of Muslim votes. But being concentrated in a small number of constituencies, Muslims have a limited capacity to impact the overall results.
Being aware that Patidars are unlikely to support Con- gress unless an impression is created that the party is not a vociferous supporter of Muslims, Rahul has been advised to avoid uttering even one word on secularism and minorities. Here again, by and large, Gujaratis are aware that if Congress wins majority, it will be “these advisers” who will hold the remote of the government. There is widespread fear that this will bring back the dreaded Mafia and the underworld to the state.
The BJP should not take the state for granted. 22 years of anti-incumbency, coupled with some drift in the state administration after Modi moved to the Centre and the economic slowdown are factors that may dampen public enthusiasm for BJP. It has been seen that pro BJP voters, instead of voting for a rival party, prefer to abstain from polling when annoyed. In a bi-polar contest, polling percentage is a great indicator of the winner. If it crosses 52%, BJP is bound to get a majority. If it reaches 55%, BJP will cross the 100-mark and every additional 1% will add three seats to it tally. Rajinder Kumar is a former Special Director of Intelligence Bureau and an expert on Pakistan. He has worked in Gujarat for a substantial period of time. The importance and significance of the party emblem was once again highlighted on Thursday when the Election Commission allotted the AIADMK’s “Two Leaves” symbol to the faction headed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E.K. Palaniswami, and his second in command, O. Paneerselvam, while rejecting the claim of jailed Jayalalithaa aide, V.K. Sasikala and her nephew T.T.V. Dinakaran. The Crest, in fact, represents the identity of the party so far as the voters and supporters are concerned and, therefore, it is being construed as a major victory for the present Chief Minister, who has already hailed the verdict and described it as palpable proof of the majority support he and his associates enjoy amongst the people and their representatives.
The symbol debate has always held a special meaning in the electoral arena and the Samajwadi Party, which was nurtured by Mulayam Singh Yadav, veteran politician, also figured in a dispute when Akhilesh Yadav took command of the organisation while sidelining his uncle and several other seniors. Luckily for Akhilesh, he has managed to retain the seal with the other sect meekly giving in.
However, the most combative insignia wrangle took place during the 1971 Parliamentary election, when Indira Gandhi, who had caused a virtual split in the Congress in 1969 contested on the cow-and-calf symbol (its design was finalised at the Tej office in Delhi by its cartoonist/illustrator Manik Pandey), provided to her faction by the Election Commission. Her group was headed by Babu Jagjivan Ram and popularly was called Congress (R), which led people to believe that it was the real Congress. The original Congress symbol of dual bullocks hauling a yoke on which the party had won four Parliamentary polls in 1952, 1957, 1962 and 1967, was allocated to the Congress (Organisation) led by S. Nijalangappa and backed by stalwarts like Morarji Desai, S.K. Patil, K. Kamaraj, Atulya Ghosh and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. This clique was perceived by the general masses as the Congress (Old).
Indira Gandhi contested the election with a pro-left image, after having nationalised banks, while initiating the proposal to abolish the privy purses of the royals. All her major opponents formed a Grand Alliance against her, and the Congress (O), Swatantra Party, the Socialist Party and Bharatiya Jana Sangh contested on their respective badges and were routed in the polls fought on Indira’s slogan of Garibi Hatao, coined for her by a Delhi college English lecturer, Ashok Chatterjee, who later went on to become a member of the Metropolitan Council from Gole Market.
The Congress, led by her in the 1977 polls, retained the cow and calf symbol, yet suffered a major setback at the hands of her opponents, who went into the ring on the common symbol of a farmer with a plough, which was furnished to them by the Bharatiya Lok Dal, led by Chaudhury Charan Singh. A segment of the Congress headed by Babu Jagjivan Ram, H.N. Bahuguna and Nandini Sathpathy—which broke away barely a month before the polls—also made the BLD insignia as their logo.
This definitely was not the end of the Congress symbol war and following the third split in January 1978, when Indira Gandhi was expelled by the dominant group in Parliament spearheaded by Yashwant Rao Chavan and K. Brahmananda Reddy, the search for a new symbol was launched. The cow and calf seal was frozen and thereby Indira Gandhi selected the hand, which was originally the emblem of the Forward Bloc (Ruikar group). The Election Commission was in two minds, but after Bansi Lal Mehta, an AICC member from Delhi, persuaded his close friend S.L. Shakdhar, the CEC, the hand was supplied to the Indira Congress. The Charkha badge was provided to the other side.
In fact, the hand proved beneficial, as the first poll contested by the Congress (I) in 1978 was won from a municipal ward of East Delhi. Subsequently, Mohsina Kidwai emerged as the first victor on the hand symbol in a Parliamentary byelection, when she defeated her mentor and veteran leader Chandrajit Yadav from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. Indira Gandhi, too, contested and triumphed on this very symbol from Chikamaglur in Karnataka, defeating Veerendra Patil of the Janata Party. Even today, the symbol is the mascot of the Congress.
The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which commenced its journey in the 1950s and 1960s as an upcoming right-wing party, used to contest elections on the lamp ( diya or deepak) symbol. Its major victory was in 1967, when it won six out of seven seats in Delhi, and swept to power both in the municipal corporation and metropolitan council polls in the capital, besides making substantial gains in other North Indian states. The Jana Sangh merged into the Janata Party, later resurfacing in 1980 in a new avatar—the Bharatiya Janata Party. The lotus symbol was designated to it, and so far, has worked as a lucky charm.
The Communist Party of India continues to carry on with ears of corn and a sickle as its emblem. The CPI(M), which was an off-shoot, however, adopted the hammer and sickle symbol as its identification in the electoral zone. Many parties that now are extinct have their symbols frozen in the archives of the Election Commission. The star crest of the Swatantra Party and the tree motif of the Socialist Party, have become an integral part of history. Thus, the significance of symbols is paramount. Between us.