BJP poaches Congress' Bavaliya in Gujarat to make inroads among OBCs and rural Saurashtra
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has got down to the exercise of regaining its lost political ground in the all important state of Gujarat and the successful 'poaching' of senior Congress leader Kunwarji Bavaliya is the first important achievement in this direction. Bavaliya dumping the Congress to join the BJP is a strategic move by the latter in terms of region and caste politics in the state ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls which is the home turf of both the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP's national president Amit Shah.
The development was predictable following the series of events that had been taking place over the last few months. It was swift political action on Tuesday over a few hours that saw Bavaliya resigning from the Congress and as Jasdan MLA, driving to the BJP office for being inducted into the saffron party and thereafter being administered oath as a member of Chief Minister' Vijay Rupani's team of ministers.
Through his poaching the BJP would be looking at three major things. The first is to have a credible leader in the all important Saurashtra region. The second to make inroads into the Other Backward Castes (OBC) voter support base while balancing caste equations within the party and third making up for losses in the rural areas. These factors need to be analyzed one by one.
The BJP had witnessed a major rout in the Saurashtra region in the 2017 Assembly polls. This region sends 58 of the 182 members of the state assembly. The BJP's tally had come down considerably from 35 to 23 in the recent polls and the party had been routed in the rural areas on issues due to farmers' unrest and the voters' caste combination that voted against the party.
“Bavaliya is one of the most experienced political faces from Saurashtra. A four time MLA and one time MP, he comes from the all important Koli community among the OBCs. The OBCs account for more than 45 per cent of the total electorate. The Kolis that are referred to Thakors in other parts of Gujarat account for roughly half the total OBC population. This surely makes him a prize catch,” said a political observer.
He further pointed that the Koli community lacks in education and is known to vote for candidates on their community irrespective of the party he is representing. “Bavaliya's reputation is also good among the people. A teacher who is polite and easily accessible with total connect with the ground realities makes him popular in the rural areas,” he said.
Another interesting fact is that by inducting Bavaliya, the BJP leadership can now deal more effectively with its other Koli strongman Parshottam Solanki along with his brother Hira Solanki. Parshottam has been throwing tantrums seeking elevation from a minister of state to cabinet rank. Despite being assured that his concerns would be addressed he is known to remain absent from important meetings. Hira had recently lost the assembly poll from Rajula seat but his representing the powerful Koli community ensured that he was inducted in the poll management committee of the BJP for the Lok Sabha elections.. With Bavaliya expected to take a centrestage among the Koli community, the Solanki brothers would not be able to throw their weight around like before.
But many are skeptical whether Bavaliya would be able to give electoral dividends to the BJP in the coming polls. Sources say that many of his supporters were not keen on his joining the BJP at this point of time and had instead wanted him to bargain for a better deal within the Congress. These supporters are of the view that the Congress leaders who had joined the BJP in the past have got a raw deal. They say that heavyweights like Narhari Amin have gone into oblivion and those who were given tickets lost the polls. They have also pointed that the anger against the BJP still persists in rural Saurashtra.
It needs to be pointed that the build up for Bavaliya's departure from the Congress was underway for the last several months. He was initially peeved at not being made the leader of the Opposition and the party president Rahul Gandhi choosing the much younger Paresh Dhanani for the post. He was also sidelined for the post of the state Congress chief that eventually went to Amit Chavda. His rivalry with Indranil Rajyaguru, the Congress leader from Rajkot had also been making headlines. Rajyaguru too tendered his resignation from the party last week which is yet to be accepted. An agitated Bavaliya had met Rahul Gandhi some days back. Sources say that he was offered a greater role in the organisation at the central level which was not acceptable to him. He had come back and had held a meeting with his supporters at Jasdan where the latter asked him to 'think differently'.
Observers say that the BJP will intensify its moves to get more disgruntled Congress leaders on board ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. It had won all the 26 parliamentary seats in the state in 2014. he Congress came up with a spirited performance in the recent assembly polls. The question now is whether the grand old party will manage to keep its flock together. If yes, then what has it got to offer to its disgruntled leaders. A visit by Rahul Gandhi is on the cards soon. It remains to be seen what he has in mind to stem the slide.