Gujarat election: Amid rising Patel discourse, BJP seeks to mobilise other backward castes to make up for lost votes
With Gujarat voting in the first phase of Assembly polls, BJP strategists are talking about making up for lost Patel votes by mobilising other castes in the OBC community
With the first phase of polling in Gujarat already in progress, the one issue which is being discussed is the role that the Patel factor may play in the election results. Will the Patel’s unhappiness hurt BJP or will it end up helping the ruling party in the state? Could it be that the Patel discourse may mobilise other castes?
Nimish Bhai Kadiya and Rakesh Bhai Kadiya in Rajkot’s Limda Chowk believe it would.
A mason by profession, Nimish Bhai who belongs to the OBC community says, “The Patel issue is not as big as it’s being played out. Yes, there’s talk, but we have been voting for BJP. It’s not going to make much of a difference.”
“Whatever happens, BJP will form the government,” adds Rakesh Bhai.
In Patel bastion Saurashtra, BJP is facing a tough battle in the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly election. Patels also form an influencing community in Rajkot and nearby areas. Overall, the Patel community, which accounts for 15 percent votes in Gujarat, can change the elections outcomes on its own.
However, some predict a split in Patel votes. The Pate community has always stood behind BJP wholeheartedly, but now there’s crack, more visible in rural areas of Gujarat.
But, BJP strategists are talking about making up for the lost votes from other sources. BJP hopes that mobilising other castes in the OBC community could help it sail through the Gujarat Assembly election.
In Gujarat, the voting percentage of OBCs is nearly 51 percent. Apart from backward castes, there are many extremely backward castes, taking the total of backward castes to 146. Of the 182 seats in Gujarat Assembly, traditionally OBCs have had an influence in 110 seats. Additionally, the OBC castes influence almost every Assembly constituency.
The BJP has been trying to penetrate into the backward and extremely backward castes vote bank. Even when Narendra Modi was the chief minister, BJP was trying to influence them. The fact that Modi comes from a backward caste, has also already brought several members from backward castes to BJP.
North Gujarat’s Palanpur resident, Aalok Prajapati studies engineering at CEPT University in Ahmedabad. Speaking about the buzz within the OBC community, Prajapati says, “Modi is OBC and he has done a lot for the OBCs. There’s no doubt that we will vote for him.”
BJP can be assured of support from the OBC community in the Patel bastion too. After touring the different regions, from Saurashtra to North Gujarat, it’s becoming clear that OBC icon Alpesh Thakur is unable to influence the community. Currently busy in establishing himself as the sole leader of the OBC community, Thakur seems to be entangled in his own election campaigning.
In the state, several of the OBC communities including the Kolis, Thakurs, Kadias, Charwaha (grazers), Nai (barbers) had been with BJP. But now with Patel’s unhappiness towards BJP, it’s likely that these castes may mobilise in BJP’s favour, which will have a direct effect on BJP.
Besides, BJP has been working towards increasing its influence among Dalits and Adivasis as well.
During the election campaigning, Modi repeatedly spoke about connecting with Gujarati Asmita and Gujarati Pride and promoted himself as a sympathiser of the Gujarati people. Modi also talked about the rehabilitation work done by his government in the flood-hit Banaskantha district while raising questions about unavailable Congress MLA in the constituency.
During the recent cyclone, Modi urged BJP workers to help the affected people, and he has been relying on his appeal as well to connect with the people.
Porbandar resident Rajiv Bhai Godania says, “When PM Modi appeals like this, it shows kinship. We don’t feel the same affinity with Rahul Gandhi.”
Whether it’s the reemergence of the Ram Mandir issue and the prime minister trying to bank on it, or the latest deed fo Mani Shankar Aiyar, these are emotional issues which BJP seems to have been waiting to lap on for a long time.
Though they have arrived little late, with the first phase of the election already in progress, BJP is forcing Congress to play on its home turf. The BJP believes the Gujarati voters will support Modi once again in the name of Gujarat Asmita.
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