Presidential Election 2017: Ram Nath Kovind is BJP's ace in hole for Gujarat polls

“Caste may be bad. Caste may lead to conduct so gross as to be called man's inhumanity to man. All the same, it must be recognized that the Hindus observe caste not because they are inhuman or wrong-headed. They observe caste because they are deeply religious”, observed BR Ambedkar, a long time ago.

File image of Ram Nath Kovind and Amit Shah. PTI

File image of Ram Nath Kovind and Amit Shah. PTI

You may or may not agree with what Ambedkar said but one thing is clear: The caste factor continues to influence elections in India, be it a gram panchayat poll or for that matter, the battle for president. Even now.

Thousands of words have already been written in the media explaining why a Dalit — Ram Nath Kovind — has been chosen as the BJP’s nominee for the highest office in the land. We know most of the reasons, which look more or less well-founded.

But what most people don’t know about this well thought out decision by the powers that be in the BJP to nominate the former Bihar governor as President of India is that this story has a Gujarati angle: Kovind belongs to the Koli community, which makes up around 24 percent of Gujarat’s electorate. Remember, Gujarat goes to the polls later this year.

In Gujarat, the Kolis are also beginning to turn against the Patidars. This is important because the BJP considers Gujarat as important as Uttar Pradesh.  Kovind’s elevation to first citizen would certainly help raise the morale of the Kolis, and in the process, help the BJP easily win the upcoming polls.

Most people in Lutyens' Delhi don’t know much about the Kolis. Here are a few facts:

1. In Gujarat, Kolis are classified under OBC category. However, the Centre has been treating them as SCs, particularly in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

2. According to the Gujarat OBC commission, there are 136 castes in the OBC list. The Kolis account for around 40 percent of the state's OBC population.

To understand the political scene, let's examine the Koli community's political leanings from a historical perspective. Until 1998, the Kolis were traditionally Congress voters. The Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim (KHAM) social alliance brought them a perceived upward mobility. So much so, that they acquired the status of Kshatriyas (deemed to be OBCs in Gujarat). For the Congress, KHAM was a powerful strategy to counter upper caste domination.

However, with the rise of Hindutva in Gujarat, things changed dramatically. The Koli vote bank divided between Congress and the BJP while the Patidars stuck with Narendra Modi's BJP despite a ‘rebellion’ by a section of party leaders, including Keshubhai Patel.

But with Hardik Patel’s recent emergence as a Patidar leader in his own right, the political equation has changed once again. Now, the Gujarat BJP must ensure that the Patidars and the Kolis not join hands with the Congress. For the BJP, it's a matter of life and death.

It’s significant that both Kolis and Patidars, who are spread across different regions of the state, carry huge political clout. Should they come together and join hands with Muslims, the BJP's fate would be sealed: And that too in the state known as the "Hindutva's experimental balloon”.

The Gujarati angle apart, the Koli community is almost as strong in neighbouring Maharashtra. You never know, Maharashtra might see early Assembly elections if the uneasiness between the BJP and the Shiv Sena takes a turn for the worse. Regardless of their public pronouncements, it’s difficult to believe that the BJP and the Shiv Sena are good friends.

Little wonder then that most analysts seem to marvel at the brilliance of the Narendra Modi - Amit Shah combine. After all, they outsmarted their adversaries yet again.

In his Firstpost article, Sreemoy Talukdar wrote: “The selection of Ram Nath Kovind as NDA's presidential candidate is a politically astute move. It goes to show just why Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are politicians 24x7. They have set very clear-cut goals within definite time frames and are pushing ahead to meet targets relentlessly.”

Indeed, the Opposition looks stumped.

Updated Date: Jun 21, 2017 15:01 PM

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