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Rattled by Patidars, BJP goes all out to woo OBCs in Gujarat

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 16 September 2017, 18:20 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

Till the middle of 2015, BJP was seen as an invincible political force in its citadel, Gujarat. But over the last two years a lot of water has flown under the bridge and the situation today is a fluid one. For the first time in the last two decades, BJP stands rattled and is looking for ways and means to reassert itself across the social spectrum of the state.

In the changed circumstances, it is now trying to woo the Other Backward castes (OBCs) to ensure that a blanket support from this category of voters will help it sail through the electoral tempest with ease. The BJP has been making overtures to Alpesh Thakor who has emerged as a major rallying point for the OBCs after his campaign against liquor addiction. The wary political parties had to support this campaign with Alpesh declaring at a rally on January 26 last year that OBCs would decide the next chief minister of Gujarat. Having started the Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena to fight liquor addiction some six years ago with a strength of 6.5 lakh members, he had gone on to establish the OBC, SC, ST Ekta Manch around a year and a half ago.

Recently there was a talk of Alpesh joining hands with the BJP but there was a massive resentment among the OBCs with some threatening to socially boycott him. As of now Thakor is holding his cards close to his chest.

Eminent political analyst Achyut Yagnik says, “There is a move by the BJP to woo the OBCs who comprise 45 per cent of Gujarat's population. The Kolis dominate the spectrum. They constitute around 20 per cent of the state's population and are known as Kolis in Saurashtra, Thakors in North Gujarat and Koli Patels in South Gujarat. Indian President Ram Nath Kovind who belongs to Kori sub caste in Uttar Pradesh used to attend Koli events in Gujarat as a BJP politician.”

Interestingly, Kolis of Gujarat fall under the OBC category while Koris in Uttar Pradesh fall in the Scheduled Castes (SCs) category. BJP had initially reportedly tried to 'mislead' the OBCs in Gujarat over Kovind's nomination for the presidential polls by equating the two.

There are reports that the BJP is now planning a rally of backward castes on September 18 at Phagwel in Kheda district that will be addressed by its national president Amit Shah.

OBCs have always voted in a fractured manner in the state. Over the last few polls they had mainly voted for the BJP in Saurashtra and South Gujarat and the Congress in North and Central Gujarat.

Veteran journalist and political analyst RK Mishra points out, “The BJP wants to capture majority of the OBC votes to balance the loss of Patidar support”.

Observers say that over the last three decades the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) formula of Jinabhai Darji and Madhavsinh Solanki that had helped Congress sweep Gujarat polls in the past got diluted with a large section of Harijans and Adivasis and a relatively smaller section of Kshatriyas shifting support to the BJP.

“But things have changed and everything is simmering in the political melting pot at this point of time. This has the BJP worried because it carries the luggage of anti-incumbency and the social strife that has taken place reservation also goes against it,” points out Mishra.

Wooing Dalits

Observers say that the BJP has also been desperately trying to woo the SC voters in its favour after being rattled by the fallout of the Una flogging incident last year and the protests that followed. Although SCs account for just seven per cent of the voters, the BJP does not want to take any chances.

“One of the things it has done is to play up Buddha who is revered in almost every Dalit household alongside Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar. The proposal to develop a Buddhist circuit comes into play here. They have never objected to Dalits converting to Buddhism in the state,” points out a senior media person in Ahmedabad.

The state is all set to host an International Buddhist Conference from September 17 to 23. Various programmes have been chalked out for Vadodara at Sankalp Bhoomi where Ambedkar had spent some time in 1917 before embarking on his fight against untouchability.

Over the last few months the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Bauddha Sangh has also been trying to woo the Dalits through Bhante Rahul Sanghpriya, who is touring the state, particularly Saurashtra and North Gujarat where the Dalit unrest has been palpable. His aim is to counter the perception that RSS and BJP are against the Dalit community.

As for the Patidars, the community stands split with the youth backing Hardik Patel who has been taking on the BJP. “The state government has been booking him under various cases and also arresting him. He has surely captured the imagination of the youth by demanding reservation for them in educational institutions. But the community elders are still with the BJP. This is evident from the attendance in Hardik's programmes where youth and women turn up in large numbers while elders keep away,” pointed an Ahmedabad based political observer. The Patidars comprise 15 per cent of the voters in the state.

The BJP will try to make the right calculations as the going is not easy during these Assembly polls. Even their poster boys Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are being compelled to make repeated visits to the state which is seen as the laboratory of Sangh Parivar.

First published: 16 September 2017, 18:20 IST