AHMEDABAD: Many political observers have been saying that the BJP has made caste-based politics and political parties irrelevant in elections in India. But caste and community remain at the heart of the Assembly polls in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state.
Such is the care being shown that both the BJP and Congress have done their utmost to ensure caste equations are maintained, fielding candidates from the same community in 57 out of the 142 unreserved seats in the state. The remaining forty seats going to the polls are reserved - 13 for the Scheduled Caste and 27 for the Scheduled Tribe.
The emergence of various caste-based social movements -- including the Patidar agitation led by Hardik Patel, the OBC movement led by Alpesh Thakur and the Dalit agitation led by Jignesh Mevani, presently with the Congress -- have played their part in ensuring that due emphasis is being paid in this direction.
These agitations caused a lot of grief to the ruling BJP and brought down their numbers to under 100 seats in 2017. The BJP won 99 seats in those elections, while Congress numbers rose to 77 seats, proof as far as most experts were concerned that these agitations played their part in shoring up the Congress performance.
Interestingly, the number of seats allocated to the Patidars by the BJP this time around is even more than that in 2017 underlining the importance being paid to the caste arithmetic by the ruling party. In 2017, the Patidars contested from 34 seats on BJP tickets. This time those numbers have risen to 45.
And if further proof was needed, it can be found in the number of OBC candidates the ruling party has fielded. Their numbers have gone up from 39 in 2017 to as many as 59 now.
The OBCs and Patidars in that order in fact make up the majority of candidates in the list of both the BJP and Congress.
Breaking down the numbers further, in 2022, there are 28 seats where candidates from the OBC community are contesting against each other. The Patidars, meanwhile, are taking each other on in 25 seats, while 12 seats will witness a BJP-Congress fight involving the Thakors from the OBC community.
When it comes to other communities, candidates from the Koli community (OBCs) are fighting it out in 10 seats, while two seats will see Kshatriyas (Rajputs) slug it out among themselves. Pitted against each other in two seats each also are candidates from the Ahir, Mehar and Chaudhary communities. Jain candidates from the BJP and Congress are locked in combat in one seat. Brahmin candidates from BJP and Congress are vying to be the MLA from another.
The added emphasis on caste and community within the ruling party in the 2022 elections has also been triggered by the fact that leaders of various community movements have switched sides and joined the BJP. The Patidar agitation leader Hardik Patel, who fought against the BJP in 2017, is now the BJP candidate from Viramgam constituency, while OBC movement leader Alpesh Thakor has also switched sides and is now contesting from Gandhinagar South as a BJP candidate.
The emphasis on caste equations in these elections might also have a lot to do with the Congress' Madhavsinh Solanki, the late leader who made the best use of caste equations in Gujarat.
In 1980, Solanki came up with the KHAM (Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim) theory based on the fact that this bloc constitutes nearly three-fourths of Gujarat's population. Wooing the KHAMs helped the Congress win big. They clinched 142 seats in 1980 and 149 seats in 1985, a record that the BJP has been trying to break for the last 27 years.
This time the BJP has tried to conjure up an almost similar formula and do a Solanki. The only difference is that the ruling party has left out Muslims and included the Patidars -- call it the KHAP (Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Patidar) theory, if you will. To help them further, they have sprinkled a liberal helping of Hindutva on top of this.
Interestingly, the Congress, the one-time proponents of 'KHAM' and to great success, have also updated their version and gone the KHAP way, leaving out the Muslims.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which always positioned itself as a party of change, has not been immune from these developments and has also handed out tickets on the basis of caste equations.
After contesting the Gujarat elections to little avail in 2017, they are attempting to give it their best shot this time around. The AAP had already tested the virtues of relying on the Patidar community in the 2021 Surat local corporation election and won 27 corporation seats.
Since then, the AAP has started giving priority to Patidars in assembly tickets distribution, even though Isudan Gadhvi from the OBC community is their Chief Ministerial candidate, a move that Arvind Kejriwal and his lead planners hope will keep the OBCs in Gujarat happy as well.
Footnote: An interesting Gujarat elections tidbit
Polling for one! Gir forest's lone voter got a polling booth for himself in 2017.