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Talk Point: Clever caste equations won’t 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?

The Congress, especially its vice president Rahul Gandhi is visibly investing everything for the crucial assembly poll in Gujarat. The party is attempting to send out a symbolic message of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reduced political clout – defeat the BJP or at least reduce its numbers.

The Congress is attempting to forge a rainbow coalition of castes to counter the BJP’s Hindutva and development plank. The party has already aligned with OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and is in talks with the young Patidar mascot Hardik Patel as well as Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani.  While theoretically, this might seem like a golden, or at least silver formula, it does not quite seem to be the party’s ticket to power.

To begin with, the BJP under its larger Hindutva umbrella has always been extremely mindful of careful caste calculations, bringing together Patels, Kolis, upper castes Brahmins and traders, and tribals. Thus, it isn’t as if the Congress is only countering the BJP’s broad Hindutva push, but is also challenging its carefully crafted caste formula.

The caste basket envisaged by the Congress is itself ridden with contradictions. Even though the Patels might be disillusioned with the BJP, the community is not homogeneous. There are sub-castes and generational differences.

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

The younger members of the community are drawn to Hardik Patel, the elders are not as warm. Alpesh Thakor has opposed the Patel community’s demand for reservations given it would eat into the OBC share. The Dalit community, to which Mevani belongs, has long felt persecuted by the OBCs. The Congress is walking a tightrope here and how it plans to make such an alliance viable remains to be seen.

Finally, the Congress can’t merely use clever caste equations to counter a formidable Modi-led BJP in Gujarat. It needs its own narrative, its own enticing set of promises to be able to have any hope of reaching the finish line first.

Ruhi Tewari is an Associate editor at ThePrint

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