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Gujarat polls: Will the new 'caste equations' prove to be a game changer in 'BJP vs Congress'?

If the exit polls are to be believed, the saffron party will easily manage to retain power in its turf, with an overwhelming majority.

Written by: Abhinav Gupta, New Delhi [ Updated: December 16, 2017 21:55 IST ]
Gujarat Elections: Will Hardik-Alpesh-Jignesh phenomenon
Gujarat Elections: Will Hardik-Alpesh-Jignesh phenomenon help Congress steal gem from BJP’s crown?

With the ‘Judgement Day’ coming closer, people across the nation are anxious to know the fate of the political battle in Gujarat. It will be interesting to see whether the people of the coastal state continue to show their faith in the BJP which has been in power for the last 22 years, or will they give a chance to the Congress, which has tried to woo the voters with its alluring manifesto.

If the exit polls are to be believed, the saffron party will easily manage to retain power in its turf, with an overwhelming majority.

India TV-VMR Exit Poll has predicted clear majority for the ruling BJP with victory on 113 seats. According to Today’s Chanakya, famous for its accurate prediction of 2014 General Elections outcome, the BJP may win two-third majority in the state.

Interestingly, all nine exit polls have predicted a clear and comfortable majority for the ruling BJP.

However, what the people of the state have decided remains a query till December 18, when the results of the 182-seat Assembly elections will be announced.

The BJP has been in power in the state for more than 22 years with the major share of that under the tenure of Narendra Modi as the chief minister. But after its rule of more than two decades, the saffron party is feeling a strong wave of opposition in the form of various agitations from different sections of the society.

A majority of these forces have joined hands with the opposition Congress party and the more than two-decades reign seems to be on the downslide. That's the reason why Narendra Modi, despite his very busy schedule, has made Gujarat virtually his home since the last couple of months and has been visiting the state every other day.

Also Read: India TV-VMR Gujarat Exit Polls predict clear majority for BJP with victory in 113 seats 

The Congress, under the leadership of party president Rahul Gandhi, is hoping to surprise the BJP, riding on a wave of support from caste groups like Patidars, OBCs and Dalits.

Political analysts believe the caste factor remains at the core of the Gujarat assembly polls. Especially following the emergence caste agitations BJP and Congress have carefully fielded candidates, keeping the caste arithmetic in mind.

India Tv - Rahul Gandhi Take Part In Cultural Dance During A Public Meeting In Gandhinagar, Gujarat

Rahul Gandhi Take Part In Cultural Dance During A Public Meeting In Gandhinagar, Gujarat

The Patidars and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) have been given maximum tickets by both the main parties. The BJP has nominated 50 Patidars this time, while the Congress has fielded 41 candidates from the community.

The ruling party has fielded 58 OBCs while the Congress has 62 such nominees. The main opposition party has given tickets to 14 Dalits while the BJP has fielded 13.

Political analysts say that this assembly poll will be a battle to win that “extra four to five per cent vote share”. According to political analyst Achyut Yagnik, a mere swing of about four to five per cent would prove to be game changer for the Congress.

However, he also believes that though there is some possibility that the Congress may win some additional seats this time, it is too early to predict that it would come to power despite the support extended by caste leaders Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani.

Will the new ‘caste equation’ cast shadow on BJP’s dream run?

The BJP has been enjoying support of the Patidars – both urban and rural – for the last two decades. But, the caste equations seem to have changed after Hardik’s agitation demanding quota for Patidars. The agitation, which also saw the death of some Patidar agitators in police firing, has cast a shadow on whether they will vote for the saffron party once again or not.

Meanwhile, following the footprints of Patidars, another agitation was triggered by OBC leader Alpesh Thakor.

While the saffron party was busy mollifying the two, Jignesh Mevani took up the case of Dalits and started agitating against the ruling party.

Estimates show that the Patidar community accounts for around 11-12 per cent of the state’s 6-crore population. The OBC population, including Thakors in north and Kolis in central Gujarat and Saurashtra, is around 40 per cent.

India Tv - OBC leader Alpesh Thakor with Congress President Rahul Gandhi

OBC leader Alpesh Thakor with Congress President Rahul Gandhi

The BJP is fighting on all the 182 assembly seats while the Congress has not fielded its candidates on six seats – five of which were given to the Bharatiya Tribal Party and one seat where Mevani is contesting as an independent.

While the Congress has indirectly supported Mevani by not fielding any candidate against him on Vadgam (SC) seat, BJP President Amit Shah claimed that the Dalit vote swing would not leave any impact due to the marginal population.

According to the Election Commission of India’s data on 2012 Gujarat Assembly polls, the BJP then received 47.85 per cent votes of the valid votes, while the Congress got 38.93 votes – a difference of 8.92 per cent votes.

While the Congress is delighted with the support of Patidars, Dalits and OBCs, the BJP still believes that no one is leaving the ship.

Patels divided over Congress’ quota promise

Congress is hopeful that the reservation promise would swing Patidar votes in its favour. However, it may not happen as Patels are divided over whether it is constitutionally possible to provide quota to Patidars.

After two years of agitation, Patidars are also facing class and urban-rural divide. For instance in Patidar dominated Rajkot, Morbi and Amreli, the financially well-off Patel are still staunch Modi-backers, while there is anger among the poor and rural voters.

Several Patidars believe that reservation is a non-issue for them. Some others believe the Congress promise of reservation has divided the community from within. The India TV-VMR opinion poll has given clear indication of this. When asked about the effect of Congress-Hardik Patel deal, 26 per cent said Hardik Patel fell in Congress’ trap; 16 per cent said Hardik is playing a ‘double game’; 22 per cent said Hardik should join Congress; 23 per cent said Hardik should give everyone freedom to take their own decision.

Also Read: India TV-VMR Opinion Poll on Gujarat Elections: Modi wave to continue as BJP may win 106-116 seats

Challenges for the saffron party

If Hardik’s rallies are anything to go by, the BJP in Gujarat shouldn’t take the Patel vote for granted this time. Lately the saffron party has felt that the Hardik has been gathering more people in his rallies and that even their star campaigner Modi is not garnering the crowds he used to do in the state.

A big question in everyone’s mind is will the Patels listen to Hardik’s pleas to not vote for the BJP, or did they just throng his rallies just to see him. While the numbers show that the Patel factor won’t stop the BJP from winning, it may, however, well weaken its grip in the state.

India Tv - Hardik Patel during an election rally in Gujarat

Hardik Patel during an election rally in Gujarat

Some of the key aides of Hardik Patel and Patel Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leaders Varun Patel and Reshma Patel and some other local leaders who were involved in the agitation defected to BJP.

But the party’s hopes of containing the damage due to the Patidar agitation suffered a setback when Narendra Patel, another PAAS leader who had joined the BJP on October 21, alleged a day later that he was offered a bribe of Rs.1 crore to break away from the Patidar agitation.

Also, Nikhil Sawani, another leader who was involved in the Patidar agitation and had joined the BJP a few weeks ago, left the party later claiming the party was not doing enough for the Patel community.

After the shifting support of the Patel community, the after-effects of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is another big challenge for the BJP. Textile traders, a majority of them of Rajasthan origin, were angry over the high rate and complex structure of the GST. The BJP had organised a public meeting of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje on December 5 to woo the Rajasthani traders but was forced to cancel it due to impact of cyclone Okhi.

The Hardik-Alpesh-Jignesh phenomenon represents a wider, though subtle, shift taking place in India’s polity. Irrespective of the electoral outcome, they are seen by many in Gujarat as symbols of a new political energy.

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