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 Sunday Guardian - - World -

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.

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