When Gujarat goes to polls at the end of the year, the stakes will be high for the Bharatiya Janata Party.
After all, it has ruled the western state since 1995 – the breakaway Rashtriya Janata Party reigned between October 1996 and February 1998 – and will be looking to win its first election without Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm.
The Congress may have sensed a chance to break their losing streak after the state witnessed the Patel community taking to the streets to demand a quota in government jobs. The stir is significant as the community has been supporting the BJP since the 1990s.
Hardik Patel, who led the agitation, backed the Congress to make a comeback in 2017. For the BJP to bring in Vijay Rupani as chief minister — an inexperienced non-Patel — in August 2016 signalled the party was weak without Modi. In the run-up to the elections, however, the Congress seems to be on a sticky wicket.
The expulsion of Leader of Opposition Shankersinh Vaghela and subsequent resignations of six MLAs, just days before the Rajya Sabha elections, seems to have dented the prospects of the Congress. The precursor to resignation saga was the presidential election, when 11 Congress MLAs voted in favour of NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind.
The larger political play may be seen by examining the profiles of the MLAs who quit: Chhanabhai Chaudhary is a tribal leader from south Gujarat's Vansda, while three MLAs belong to the Kshatriya communities. While Mansinh Chohan was an legislator from Balasinor, Balwantsinh Rajput — now the third BJP candidate for the Rajya Sabha elections — represented the Siddhpur seat.
The most high-profile resignation is probably of that of Thasra MLA Ramsinh Parmar, a Baria-Kshatriya, who is also the chairman of Amul.
Moreover, Vaghela, a Durbari Kshatriya from Kapadwanj, is also considered the single biggest vote catcher for the Congress among the Kshatriya communities.
When seen through the prism of Congress’ traditional vote bank politics in Gujarat, the exit of tribal and Kshatriya leaders is a major blow to the party’s long-standing KHAM theory.
Formulated in the 1980s by three-time chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki, KHAM stands for Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim.
The KHAM theory was part of Congress' social engineering strategy to unite the four communities in Gujarat to neutralise the powerful Patel community. The KHAM formula helped lead the Solanki-led Congress to win a whopping 149 of the 182 seats in the 1985 Assembly elections. Even Modi, the longest serving Chief Minister of Gujarat, could not break this record during the 2002, 2007 and 2012 elections.
While the KHAM factor helped the Congress in the 1980s, the rise of the BJP in the wake of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and communal polarisation rendered the formula obsolete. Additionally, the Patel community, miffed by the alliance began shifting its loyalty towards the BJP.
Since the ascension of Keshubhai Patel in 1995, the Patel community have had a dominant representation in the state Cabinet. In the Rupani Cabinet, there are eight ministers from the community.
But while the KHAM factor failed to help the Congress win elections after 1985, it has helped the party to at least maintain a good vote share in the last six elections.
In the 2012 elections, the Congress secured 38.9 percent of the vote share, while in 2007 the party recorded a 39.63 percent vote share. Notably, the Congress vote share improved in the last two elections when compared to the 1995 elections, when the party only received 32 percent of the votes. If one discounts the results of the 2002 polls, which were conducted in a communally charged environment, the difference between the Congress and BJP vote shares have been around nine percent.
The KHAM alliance may finally collapse after Vaghela and his loyalists exited — many others are likely to follow suit — the Congress. The lack of a powerful Kshatriya face is likely to hurt the party's hold over the community, which constitutes about 20 percent of the state population.
Meanwhile, BJP is also wooing the tribals (Adivasis) in the aftermath of the Patidar agitation. Tribals comprise 14 percent of the total population and are a dominant electoral group in the southern parts of the state, bordering Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
The entry of former Congress MLAs Tejashreeben Patel and Prahlad Patel is expected to help the party consolidate its traditional Patel vote bank in north Gujarat which was the epicentre of the 2015 Patidar protests.
With the Congress in disarray, BJP chief Amit Shah’s "Mission 150" — setting a target of 150 Assembly seats for the Gujarat unit of BJP — seems on the right track: For now.
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Updated Date: Aug 05, 2017 15:21:40 IST