BJP has its plan ready to address crucial challenges on Modiís homeground

With Gujarat witnessing the Patidar agitation and OBC unrest, BJP has to confront formidable tests in the state.
Like all reserved constituencies for Scheduled Castes, the battle in Sabarkantha’s Idar assembly constituency is not primarily for Dalit votes. It is for the votes of ‘general castes’. And that is where Ramanlal Vora of the BJP has consistently outperformed his Congress rival.
But this time, in this pocket of North Gujarat, the hub of Gujarat’s Patidar agitation and OBC unrest, the BJP’s Dalit candidate will face the challenge of winning over precisely these castes. In a way, Idar sums up the BJP’s challenge in Gujarat — of substantial demographic blocks, for their own reasons, stitching an alliance against the party. This is most acute in North Gujarat, the home of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But the BJP has a roadmap to overcome the challenge.
The fractured social coalition
Sample Idar’s demographics. Rough official estimates suggest it has 7,000 Thakors (an OBC group), 26,000 Muslims, 36,000 Dalits, and crucially, over 60,000 Patels — besides Kshatriyas and a range of other OBC groups. In 2012, Vora got a little over 90,000 votes, winning with a margin of 11,380 votes.
But if Ketan Patel’s mood is anything to go by, the ground is shifting. The owner of Jai Bajrang Bali Transport in Idar bazaar, he says business is down because of the Goods and Services Tax. Patel was also a part of the Patidar agitation for reservation back in 2015, and spent a week in prison. “We are not angry because we did not get reservation. We are angry because they dared fire on us. We have to teach BJP a lesson once.”
Vora often, a local journalist says, ignored Dalit complaints of atrocities against general castes, particularly Patels, to curry favour with them. “He now faces a situation where his community is angry with him, Muslims have always been hostile, Thakors have largely been with Congress, and the mainstay of his support, Patels, are moving away.”
The mood is not unique to Sabarkantha. In the historic district of Patan, near the main bus stand, Hindustan Times spoke to Magnesh Prajapati, who runs a paint shop. He complained about the media’s coverage of Modi (‘Is there no one else in this country?’); he said business was down (‘Notebandi, demonetisation, destroyed our incomes for months’), and felt that Congress was in the reckoning.
In Chanasma assembly segment’s Kamboi village, a group of Kshatriya men mocked BJP’s attempt to link Congress leader Ahmed Patel with terrorism. (‘They have suddenly remembered terrorism as elections draw closer’). And some distance away, Patel men launched a passionate attack on the BJP.
Jatinbhai Patel told HT, “BJP tells us if we don’t vote for them, it will mean Congress raj, which is equal to Muslim raj. But this time, even Muslim raj is better than BJP raj.”
Back in Patan bazaar, Binodbhai Patel runs a sweet shop. He remains loyal to the BJP, and explains, “Many of the voters you spoke to, Prajapatis, Thakors, the Kshatriya, are traditional Congress voters. The change is Patels have moved away and they add both critical numbers and shape opinions. That is our challenge.”

Tags: Gujarat.Patidar.OBC. BJP