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Talk Point: Caste groups could take Congress to victory in Gujarat

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Ahead of the crucial Gujarat elections, the Congress party has been actively seeking out powerful leaders of different caste communities. A prominent OBC strongman Alpesh Thakor of the BJP has defected to the Congress party, even as talks with the Patidar leader Hardik Patel are underway. Its complex caste formulations have given some hope to the beleaguered Congress party in Gujarat, which has been under the BJP rule for almost two decades.

Can Congress use caste to challenge BJP’s ‘Hindutva-Vikas’ in Gujarat elections?

In 1985, Madhav Singh Solanki became the chief minister of Gujarat with a new caste combination experiment – Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim (KHAM). It ensured 149 seats for the Congress, but left the Patidars out in the cold.

While there is no definitive caste data, the Patidars are estimated to account for about 15 per cent of Gujarat’s population. The number may not be too high, but Patidars, being landowners and a business-driven community, play an influencer role in electoral verdicts, like Brahmins in north India. Sidelined by KHAM, Patidars gravitated towards the BJP and took a significant portion of OBC votes, which form around half the populace, with them.

After becoming CM, Narendra Modi was also able to attract Dalit votes, and together, this became another victorious combination, especially in urban areas. The Congress was left with nine per cent Muslims, 14 per cent tribals, and some OBC and Dalit votes.

However, even in the last elections in 2012, despite a Modi wave, BJP faced a challenge in winning Gujarat. Five incumbent ministers and Gujarat BJP president RC Faldu lost the polls, 12 BJP candidates’ victory margins were less than 5,000 votes, and the vote-share gap between the BJP (51 per cent) and the Congress was just nine per cent.

Here are other sharp perspectives in the same Talk Point by:
Sheela Bhatt, National Affairs Editor, NewsX
Pravin Mishra, Associate professor, MICA School of Ideas
Harsh Sanghavi, BJP MLA, Gujarat
Ruhi Tewari, Associate Editor, ThePrint

Now, for the first time in decades, the caste combination seems to be drifting away from the BJP, thanks to the rise of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani, representing the Patidars, OBCs and Dalits respectively. Thakore is already in the Congress fold, and the other two are likely to side with it.

On paper, this is a completely new experiment, and much would depend on how the Congress manages the caste equations in ticket distribution. There is no guarantee that these leaders would guide all the votes of their communities towards the Congress, but even a three to four per cent shift from the BJP would take the Congress over the 100-seat mark, good enough to form the next government.

Kumar Anshuman is an Associate editor at ThePrint

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