Three caste leaders and one tribal leader may make things difficult for the ruling BJP in Gujarat

Alpesh Thakor addressing a Kshatriya Thakor Assembly (Inset photo: Alpesh Thakor)

-A. H. Lakhani, Ahmedabad

After decades of the Hindutva politics, in Gujarat, in the ultimate the caste politics seemed to have entered Gujarat and this could make things much tougher for the BJP – which is in power in the state since 1990s. Those in the know of things also say that during and post-2002 riots, the religious polarisation had the effect of diluting caste differences. “The riot in 2002 had resulted in bringing caste unity. Even Dalits and Adivasis voted for the BJP and possibly participated in riots also,” says Mohammad Ainul, an IT professional at Vadodara.

But in the run up to the 2017 assembly polls, at least three caste players have emerged – one Ambedkarite, one pro-Patidars and one pro-Kshatriya leader and thus combined together they do threaten to add to the challenges of the BJP – which may still have Narendra Modi as a vote catcher but not as their aspiring Chief Minister yet again.

In BJP’s 19-year rule, Mr Modi was the Chief Minister from October 2001 to May 2014 – for 13 years – with the saffron party recording convincing victory in 2002, 2007 and 2012 assembly polls. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP won all the 24 seats in the state.

However, it may not be a simple cakewalk to win the 2017 Assembly polls as the BJP does not have any strong leader. The incumbent Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has been low-profile leader and was chosen only after having faced a major anti-BJP campaign by Patels (or Patidars) against Anandiben Patel.

Caste has finally come to play as a major player in this year’s elections. Two key caste players – Alpesh Thakor (Kshatriya-Thakor leader) and Hardik Patel (Patidars leader) – have declared that the OBC, Kshatriya communities on one side and Patels on the other would decide who will become the state’s next Chief Minister.

“No individual will now be allowed to decide who is the next Chief Minister of Gujarat. Modi did his blunder by putting Anandiben Patel as Chief Minister and now things are not in his hands,” new JD(U) rebel faction chief Chhotubhai Vasava told.

In 2015, the BJP faced major campaign from the influential Patidars following a reservation demand movement led by Hardik Patel. Adding to the woes of the BJP, to woo the Patidars, the Congress party has promised 20 per cent reservation for the economically backward classes among the upper castes.

It has also decided to back 25-year-old Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS). The Congress leader Bharatsinh Solanki has also tried to develop working relations with 36-year-old Jignesh Mewani, who is now leading pro-Dalits welfare movement. AICC in-charge Gujarat, Ashok Gehlot also reportedly reached out to Alpesh Thakor.

Statistically, while Patidars comprise 14 per cent of voters, Congress is also eyeing 8 per cent Dalit voters and hence trying to enlist the support of Jignesh Mewani, who is championing an Ambekarite movement in the state.

“Unless caste is destroyed and the system thrown into the dustbin, we can’t become a proper nation,” said Dalit leader Mr Mewani recently.

In the meantime, another caste leader has emerged with a clear political vision and also a road map that would threaten the traditional political mindset in the western Indian state. Leading once a little known Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena (GKTS), Alpesh Thakor has set up block and assembly level units in over 120 assembly segments out of 182 constituencies in the state.

His rhetoric against BJP had a formidable supporters from among the communities while post-Hardik Patel stir, his organisation actually got into prominence as it decided to oppose ‘reservation demand’ of the “well-to-do Patidars”.

(Abdul hafiz lakhani is a senior journalist based in Ahmedabad and Editor of Gujarat Siyasat )

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