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Changing dynamics in Saurashtra might hurt BJP in Gujarat

Saurashtra and Kutch's region is no longer appearing ideologically stable with BJP and showing trends to swing in favour of Congress. Photograph: (Others)

Hyderabad, Telangana, India Nov 16, 2017, 05.50 AM (IST) Afroz Alam

Is Gujarat ready to deliver the sixth term for Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) on December 18, 2017? The answer is not as simple as the question. Since 1962, Congress and BJP have each been successful six and five times respectively in winning five consecutive terms. However, Madhav Singh Solanki of Congress and Narendra Modi of BJP were the only Chief Ministers to win three consecutive terms for their parties.

It is common sense that each electoral victory is based on a combination of several factors for which positive determinants outweigh the negative ones. Whatever may, in the 2017 Gujarat election, one may notice that the competitiveness of Congress and BJP is more balanced than expected at least with regard to the popular perception.

In the Saurashtra and Kutch region as the present political conjuncture in this region is favourable to Rahul Gandhi’s Congress.
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While the planets may seem aligned for BJP, the bad news is the party running for the sixth consecutive term. Therefore, it appears that there is a risk of fatigue on the part of the electorates in Gujarat. This trend is more visible in the Saurashtra and Kutch region as the present political conjuncture in this region is favourable to Rahul Gandhi’s Congress.

We must remember that “all politics is local” and thus each region has their own political dynamics. It is equally true about Saurashtra and Kutch region. In total, there are 54 assembly seats in this region, the highest number comparing other regions. In particular, these assembly seats are divided as per the following: 6 in Kutch, 5 in Surendranagar, 11 in Rajkot, 7 in Jamnagar, 2 in Porbandar, 9 in Junagarh, 5 in Amreli, and 9 in Bhavnagar.

Saurashtra and Kutch's region is no longer appearing ideologically stable with BJP and showing trends to swing in favour of Congress. Though BJP did well in this region in 2012 Assembly elections despite the probable challenge from Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP). The BJP won 34 of the 54 seats. But the party’s vote share in the region was declined from 48 per cent in 2007 to 45 per cent in 2012.

One of the reasons was the GPP’s performance that secured almost 8 per cent of the votes in this region and ended up winning two seats. The Congress won 16 seats that is a gain of two seats from 2007. Interestingly, BJP with 34 seats got 45 per cent of votes while Congress with only 16 seats got 37 per cent of votes.

In the past and even now, there has been a deep schism between the mainland Gujarat and Saurashtra. In 1957, Jivraj Mehta from Saurashtra as Chief Minister nominated most of the minsters from Saurashtra region and refused to take orders from the mainland dominated Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee.

The replacement of Keshubhai Patel from Saurashtra by Narendra Modi in 2001 was seen in the similar light. Similarly, in popular imaginations, mainland Gujarat is treated modern, progressive while Saurashtra as backward and regressive.

The changing social dynamics in this region is equally worrisome for BJP.
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In 2017, we must underline that Congress is becoming stronger in this region. As for the voters Congress resembles more as BJP in its methods and approach to make a dent in BJP’s support base like visiting temples, attending local festivals, sidelining minorities, playing religious card like using Lord Shiva, exploiting the economic pessimism among farmers, workers, traders, industrialists due to GST, demonetisation, poor employment records and other governance failures at local level.

At the same time, the changing social dynamics in this region is equally worrisome for BJP. It can be seen in the rising anxiety amongst the close circle of BJP due to the rising graph of the Congress. If election will held today, as reflected in the November 2017 survey of Lokniti-CSDS data, both Congress and BJP will secure 42 per cent of votes. However, in the August 2017 Survey, BJP was supposedly enjoying 65 per cent of vote shares while Congress only 26 per cent. It is certainly a huge decline of BJP on perception index.

How do we explain such a decline in popular perception? The significant development is the frustration of Patidars and Karadia Rajputs with BJP. Karadia Rajputs having a dominant presence in 25 Assembly constituencies of this region and traditionally voted for BJP are mobilising against the party.

We must note that Karadia Rajputs are OBCs and the OBC leader Alpesh Thakor is gaining prominence among them. Interestingly, their rivalries with Patidars are also getting diluted due to their anti-BJP convergence. What could not be gained socially is achieved politically? It is also to be highlighted that Rajputs in Saurashtra includes lower castes such as Kathis, Kolis and Mers and collectively referred as Kshatriyas.

For Patidars, Saurashtra and Kutch is a stronghold. They are in sizable presence in more than 30 Assembly seats and are in a position to tip the scale of victory in these constituencies. The Patidar leader, Hardik Patel still enjoys the confidence of his community despite the attempt to demean his character through the sudden release of CDs. It must be noted that it is not for the first time Patidars are giving a challenge to BJP. In 2012, Keshubhai Patel also tried to mobilise Patidar voters but failed.

The certain swing of voters and the habit of ‘panic vote’ in the last minute may still be able to change the fate of the BJP in Saurashtra as it happened in 2012.
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But unlike the past, first, Patidar’s anger was consolidated with an organised movement by the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti on the pretext of ‘first reservation then vote’. Second, the overall pessimism of the electorate was relatively modest in 2012, and thus BJP did well due to excellent management of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Third, for the first time, Kadvas, Leuvas and other sub-castes of Patels like Chaudharys and Anjanas came together to emerge as the united force due to reservation movement.

However, BJP may get the support from Koli community that is more than 20 per cent and has a sizable presence in 18 Assembly seats in Saurashtra. More specifically, like always, the certain swing of voters and the habit of ‘panic vote’ in the last minute may still be able to change the fate of the BJP in Saurashtra as it happened in 2012.

(Disclaimer: The author writes here in a personal capacity)

Afroz Alam

Afroz Alam is Associate Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, Maulana Azad National Urdu University

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