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Gujarat elections: BJP, Congress chalk out new poll strategies

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-05-2017 Maulik Pathak

Ahmedabad: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat is busy building a rainbow coalition of various social groups to take on the opposition Congress, which is working to wean away disenchanted Patels ahead of assembly elections in December.

While the Congress is planning to field a third of its candidates from the influential Patel community, the latter is trying to bring upper castes, other backward classes (OBCs), tribals and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (SCs & STs) onto its platform.

“OBC constitutes about 40% of the state’s population and the BJP is working closely with as many as 150 castes under this category at the constituency level. The work to strengthen the tribal and scheduled caste voters is also on full swing. Also, the upper castes which constitute Brahmins, baniyas and others form about 10% of the state’s population and there is a renewed focus to get their support,” said a BJP official on conditions of anonymity. The BJP’s target is to win 150 of 182 assembly seats this time.

Patels, who form about 14% of the state’s population, are among the most influential communities in Gujarat and have backed the BJP for over two decades now. However, unmet demands for reservations in jobs and education have made many of them bitter.

The Congress, which has about half a dozen of its 57 MLAs in Gujarat from the Patel community, recently held meetings with the Patel Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convener Hardik Patel, following which the quota agitation leader said that he would consider supporting the Congress if it fulfils their demands.

“The Patidars are no longer with BJP as the party has deserted them. We are looking to field about 50 Patel candidates in the upcoming state elections especially in Saurashtra region,” said a Congress leader, seeking anonymity.

Last week, chief minister Vijay Rupani kick-started Krishi Mahotsav, a programme aimed at farmers, in tribal-dominated Dang district of South Gujarat, where he dedicated and laid foundation stones of various developmental works worth more than Rs118 crore. In a media statement issued on 26 May, he said the state government is committed to resolving issues raised by the people in tribal areas. In February, the state BJP had carried out a mass outreach programme in the tribal belt of Gujarat through the Adivasi Vikas Gaurav Yatra.

“While more than 70% of the Patels have been voting for the BJP for over two decades now, the Patel agitation may dent about 10-15% of the voters. Data analysis of the 2012 Gujarat election shows that the SCs and STs have voted more for the Congress than the BJP in Gujarat. The strategies of both the Congress and BJP are old and are getting exhausted in Gujarat. While they may be trying to woo different communities as of now, finally it will all boil down to OBC votes,” said Ghanshyam Shah, an Ahmedabad-based political expert.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat for over 13 years before becoming prime minister, is seen as the party’s main campaigner for the assembly elections. BJP had won 115 seats in 2012 state elections. With Modi at the centre, the party has faced a series of agitations from members of the Patel community, Dalit community and OBC community over various reasons.

Modi’s frequent visits in the last few months to the state, where he inaugurated a host of irrigation and infrastructure schemes in Saurashtra and tribal regions, are seen as an attempt to rebuild support of tribals, OBCs and scheduled castes. His massive roadshow in Surat in April, following which he inaugurated a couple of projects in Patidar-dominated areas in the city, was seen as an attempt to woo the community back to the BJP fold.

The state BJP on Sunday had kicked off the ‘vistarak’ initiative to establish direct contact with people ahead of elections. The initiative, which will continue till 5 June will see each party ‘vistarak’ (a full-time worker) visiting one of the total 48,000 polling booths across the state to campaign and to interact with the people.

Political expert Shah says it would be a tough task for the party to improve its earlier tally, given the social and economic unrest among OBC and SC/ST youths.

While tribals constitute about 16-17% of the state’s population, scheduled castes make up about 7.5-8% and Muslims about 11% of the state’s population.

“The Congress had won 149 seats using the so-called KHAM alliance of Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims in the mid-1980s and the BJP is now trying pull off a similar feat,” said another BJP official, requesting anonymity.

While BJP is working on rebuilding support of OBCs, Cong is seeking to woo Patels

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