Gujarat elections: How caste turned up as a significant factor in upcoming elections

Gujarat elections: How caste turned up as a significant factor in upcoming elections. Photo: Twitter

Ahmedabad/Gujarat, October 26: Both BJP and Congress are talking about jobs and development at the rallies but caste remains an important factor in Gujarat and might decide the fate of the assembly election in December.

The common people like farmers, diamond barons and some of the biggest industrialists in Gujarat witnessed a fall in fortune in recent decades as agriculture declined and instantly shifted away from the BJP, especially youngsters.

In the local body elections that took place in December 2016, the BJP suffered heavy losses across the countryside. BJP won only 73 panchayats compared to the Congress that won around 132. So, It made BJP realize that caste dynamics in the state were shifting. The Patidars who shifted to the saffron party in 1980 are now a fractured votebase.

In 1980, the Congress formed together with a coalition called KHAM for Kshatriya, Harijan (Dalits), Adivasi (Tribals) and Muslims. This coalition brought together nearly 40% of the state’s population and also brought former chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki to power with a record 141 seats in a 182-member assembly.

The political analyst Hari Desai said that the move was influential in bringing Patidars who were emerging as the economic pillar of the state towards the BJP. Since then, this election is the first one when caste equations are clearly at the forefront.

In 2002, the BJP won the biggest victory under the chief minister Narendra Modi. The election took place after the 2002 Godhra train burning and subsequent riots where more than 1,000 people died.

Socio-political analyst Achyut Yagnik said that if communal divide dominated the elections in 2002 held after Godha communal riots, Narendra Modi made efforts to change the narrative to development issues in subsequent elections.

Achyut Yagnik said that in the upcoming elections due to agitation by various communities, the caste equations are back as the central idea. This time, the Patidar movement and the protests by a section of the OBCs and agitations by Dalits against atrocities brought caste to the front.

The Congress is trying to bring back KHAM while the BJP is trying to pacify the Patidars. On October 23, when Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi addressed his speech in Gandhinagar with slogans of Jai Mataji (Kshatriyas), Jai Sardar (Patidars) and Jai Bhim (Dalits), it was seen as a hit to invoke KHAM, but with an addition of Patidar.

Rahul Gandhi also visited several temples in his visits to Gujarat, including the Shree Khodaldham that is Patidar’s deity temple and Phagvel, an important Kshatriya pilgrimage. The BJP took back nearly 400 police cases against Patidar youth that was registered after violent protests by the community to push for their quota demand.

After the BJP’s move of introducing 10% reservation for economically backward classes from all non-reserved communities was inflicted by the court, state government in October formed a commission and a corporation to look at the needs of the non-reserved castes.

Still, the party could not work out a strategy for the Dalits of the state, who are angry after a surge in atrocities, especially the flogging of scheduled caste men by alleged cow vigilantes in Una last year.