The HAJ factor: With caste dominating this Gujarat polls, things are on a different track
The 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections are proving to be vastly different ballgame from the last three times. Not only is there a keen contest on the cards, with the Congress making a come back as a formidable force this time, the minor election dynamics also stand changed in a big way.
To begin with, caste has taken a precedence over every other thing. Caste politics making a comeback in the state after more than two decades has ensured that the politics of communalism takes a back seat, at least for now. However, the attempts at communal polarisation continue.
The HAJ (Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani) factor has redefined the caste equations in the state compelling the two main parties to walk the tightrope as far as ticket distribution goes.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including its party president Amit Shah, have been attacking the Congress for bringing caste politics back to the state. But BJP's ticket allocation has been no different and this proves that the party too is playing the same game.
The final list of candidates of both parties shows how they have succumbed to the caste considerations. Both parties seem to have gone overboard to please the Patidars who have been agitating for reservations in government jobs and educational institutions.
An aspect common to both is that this time around they have given more preference to Kaduva Patels and this has come at the cost of Leuva Patels. While the BJP has increased the number of Kaduva Patels in its final list from 20 in 2012 to 23 this time, the Congress too has raised it from 18 to 21.
The Kaduva Patels have been the agitators over the last three years and are educationally and economically more backward among the two sub-groups among Patidars. The BJP has reduced its Leuva Patel candidates from 32 to 29 while the Congress has done the same from 27 in 2012 to 26 this time around.
Observers say that the BJP can afford to 'ignore' the Leuva Patels as it already has the support of the Leuvas sitting in high government offices and also the party. The party has twice elected Leuvas as chief ministers in Keshubhai Patel and Anandiben Patel. Even the present Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel comes from the same subgroup.
Interestingly both the parties have substantially increased the allocation of tickets to the Other Backward Castes (OBC) candidates. This is being seen as an outcome of the OBC youth leader Alpesh Thakor having recently joined Congress.
While the BJP has raised its number of tickets to the OBCs from 47 in 2012 to 57 this time, the Congress has increased the tally to 65 from 57 in 2012.
Another major deviation from the past elections is that this time around, the individual charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not at work which had been the case during his earlier avatar as the state’s chief minister.
“On the earlier three occasions, the polls had been about Modi versus the Congress and others. But this time the things are different. This time people are talking about individual candidates along with their merits and demerits. Earlier even candidates with no individual clout or identity had managed to enter the state Assembly after contesting in the name of Modi. This time all that has changed,” said a poll analyst based in Rajkot.
Even common people are saying that this time the poll outcome will not be decided by Modi’s individual charisma. They are also saying that while the earlier elections had been a dull and drab affair with the poll outcome known well in advance, this time the things are much more interesting with a keen contest on the cards.
The BJP also succumbing to the power of caste equations itself shows that the Modi-factor has gone into the background for these polls.
Rhetoric has also seen a downfall in the campaign this time around although Modi is trying to fall back on it in his speeches. However, it is not having the desired impact.
With the Congress having weaved its campaign around local issues it is very clear that plain rhetoric would not be of much consequence for the BJP. Sources say that particularly in the rural heartland of the state it is farm related issues that are dominating the political narrative. And this is where the Congress is scoring brownie points.
The farmers are talking about not having got remunerative prices for their groundnut produce, the delay in payment for their cotton produce procured by the government, not getting agriculture insurance payments for the losses incurred etc.
“For these people, the whole narrative of ‘Vikas’ or development carries an altogether different meaning. They are not concerned with urban glitter but with the issues that govern the rural life,” said the analyst.
Even the attempts like releasing a sex CD that allegedly featured youth Patidar leader Hardik Patel did not have the desired results.
“In fact, what came as a surprise was that even the women among the Patels saw it as a ploy to reap political benefits. Many of them have been talking about the whole affair as an attempt to blow up something that has nothing illegal about it. There has been a counter campaign within the Patels questioning the move to impinge on the private life of Hardik,” said a member of the Patidar community-based in Ahmedabad.