The BJP’s uninterrupted hold over Gujarat since 1995 may be coming to an end. The BJP has been at the helm of all power structures in Gujarat since 1995. Narendra Modi has been a key architect of all these electoral victories that the BJP has won since 1995, but with him and his key Lieutenant Amit Shah away in Delhi, they seem to be losing their grip over Gujarat.
The Gujarat BJP has not performed well electorally since Modi & Shah have left Gujarat. BJP under Anandiben Patel has not been able to counter a resurgent Congress, which performed very well in the panchayat elections. The Zila Parishad results have been a shocker for the BJP and a shot in the arm for the Congress. The Congress won 23 of the 31 Zila Panchayat elections, a gain of a massive 14! The BJP did manage to retain all its urban municipalities of Surat, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Vadodara, Bhavnagar and Ahmedabad. It won 40 out of the 56 municipalities that were up for grabs.
The rural economy of Gujarat has not been doing well for quite sometime now. There are over 25 million rural workers in Gujarat of whom 16 million depend directly or indirectly on agriculture. Gujarat has 41 million voters out of which over 26 million voted in 2014. Hence, it is quite clear that the rural voters are very important for BJP and losing the Zila Parishad elections is not a good sign.
Another major thorn or rather thorns in the BJP’s flesh are upstart leaders like Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mewani and Alpesh Thakor. These 3 leaders have been active in Gujarat Politics for less than a year, but their impact has been stupendous. Together they are in a position to influence over 63% of the population. Yes that’s true. Hardik Patel appeals to the Patels who form 16% of the population, Alpesh Thakor appeals to the OBCs who constitute over 40% of the population and Jignesh Mewani who is a Dalit leader and has appeal amongst some Muslims can influence 7% of the population. This overall is a huge chunk of the population.
Hardik Patel has been organizing and agitating for the Patidar/ Patel community since July 2015. He has been organizing protest rallies for getting the Patdar community included in the list of OBCs for Government benefits and reservations for school/ college admissions and jobs. The Patidars have traditionally been financially well off and hence, giving them reservations is something that is difficult to comprehend and do.
Hardik Patel is just 23 years old, but his Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti has been tremendously successful in rallying crowds because he has raised some valid points. There are very few Patidars who are now actually well off. With the rural economy not doing well, many have been forced to sell their lands and very few of them actually own more than a bigha of land. The OBCs corner a large chunk of college seats and government jobs due to the reservations even when they are financially much well off than a few decades ago. This is causing a lot of heartburn for a majority of Patidars.
This is the reason for the strong backing he has received from the community all over the state. Due to their large numbers (16% of 6 crores) and strong backing of the BJP over the years, the ruling party is not able to ignore them, but giving reservations is also impossible without antagonizing OBCs. Putting Hardik in jail has hardly helped Modi in the perception battle. Modi is truly in between a rock and a hard place. Hardik’s next steps in the next 12 months will make or break the BJP in Gujarat.
Alpesh Thakore leads the Gujarat OBC Ekta Manch for the OBCs who constitute about 40% of the Gujarat population. He is the son of a local Congress leader Khodabhai Patel. Alpesh Thakore has been mobilizing people against the illicit liquor that is manufactured and sold in Gujarat. There have been many hooch tragedies that have happened over the last few decades, mainly under the watch of Modi. This movement has let him galvanize support in not just the OBC community, but also the SC ST community who have been victims of this. They say that the government has done nothing in this regard inspite of complaints from villagers and others regarding illegal hooch dens.
The second reason for him to be popular is his stand against Hardik Patel and the Patidar movement. He asserts that they will not forgo their reservations for the Patels who have always dominated them. He has been getting a lot of support because of this. This is a highly emotive issue for the backward classes as they feel they will lose a means to get ahead in life. Alpesh Thakore has not been able to attract crowds as big as Hardik Patel, but his message has been well received across Gujarat. Political parties have given him their support for his prohibition rallies, but are extremely guarded about commenting on the reservations for Patels under OBC as they do not want risk upsetting any particular community before the elections as both are numerically strong in certain pockets of Gujarat.
A lot of political commentators are saying that Alpesh has been propped up by the Congress to ensure that Modi loses Gujarat, but Alpesh has surely shown that he is not a fly by night operator & is now impossible to ignore. Modi again cannot please any one community without upsetting the other. Another headache for the Prime Minister!!
Jignesh Mewani is a lawyer and a former Aam Aadmi Party leader who quit the party to support the Dalit rights and land rights movement. The Una Dalits flogging incident galvanized all the Dalits of Gujarat together and it led to them taking an oath of not cleaning and cattle carcasses all over Gujarat. This movement was led by Jignesh and has given the Dalits the confidence to stand up against the existing caste structure. Dalits form only 7% of the population, but Jignesh is also wooing the Muslims, who have for long been neglected in Gujarat. Muslims are about 9% of the population of Gujarat and when combined with Dalits make up for 16% of the population, which is a huge chunk of votes.
Another demand being made by Jignesh is the strict implementation of the Agricutural Land Ceiling act. He is demanding that the Government should give 1.63 lakh hectares of land to 37,000 families. This is something which has been done by the Government in 2006, but not at the scale that Jignesh is demanding. The case is currently pending in the court and the Government is getting sleepless nights because of this. Implementing this act will open a can of worms for Modi as he will have to implement this all over the country, something no politician is willing to do. This is one leader who has definitely posed a hard political question which can hurt Modi at a national level.
Gujarat is not just a prestige issue for Modi, but is important in the scheme of things for 2019. Getting an absolute majority once again in 2019 is looking difficult. With an unsteady campaign in UP and a strong Nitish & Lalu alliance in Bihar, winning 2019 does not look easy. Consider this – 93 seats were won by BJP were from UP & Bihar. Also, they had gotten almost all the seats on offer from Rajasthan, Gujarat, MP, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra. Repeating this performance once again looks difficult. To get an absolute majority once again, making major inroads in other states is very important, something which the BJP doesn’t seem to be doing & hence retaining current states is very important!
Narendra Modi surely has the toughest job in the World!!