Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party are facing probably their toughest electoral battle in Gujarat in two decades. The saffron party, which has now ruled the state for over 22 years, faces multiple unprecedented challenges this time. Modi’s party is facing anti-incumbency of 22 years, leadership crisis at top and biggest of all – threat from the Patidar community which was otherwise a traditional vote bank of Modi brigade. While the prime minister has been able to do the damage control on anti-incumbency front and leadership crisis, the Patidar challenge still stands tall. Patidars, considered to be the most dominant community in Gujarat, are demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. Also, they are angry with the ruling party due to deaths of several community members during 2015 protests. Not only this, the opposition Congress has left no stone unturned to woo the community – they have accepted the demand of reservation, and in lieu of that, Patidar leader Hardik Patel has vowed his support to them.
So, what is Modi-Amit Shah’s plan to counter Patidar threat? This time, the BJP is wooing OBC voters as much as it can. While Patidars remain strong in terms of wealth, their number is limited to 12 per cent. OBCs, on the other hand, form around 40 per cent of the state’s total population. There is a direct arithmetic – if the Patidars are given OBC status – they are most likely to eat into the reservation share of OBCs. The OBC community is reportedly apprehensive of Patidar demands and the Congress’ pledge to support them.
In past, the backward classes have voted almost equally for BJP and the Congress. However, experts say the upcoming elections could be different, especially if their fear tilts the balance in favour of the BJP even by a few count. If the said fear translates into votes, the electoral gains for the saffron brigade would be much more than the loss that Patidars could inflict.
Indian Express reports that BJP’s vote share ranged between 47.9% and 49.8% in the elections that took place between 2002 and 2012.
The OBCs’ list in Gujarat includes 146 castes, among which, 17 are from the Muslim community who may not vote for the saffron party. The most dominant in terms of numbers is Koli community, a traditional fishing community with a strong presence in south Gujarat and Saurashtra. This community accounts for 15% of the state’s population.
Last time, the BJP won 33 out of 48 seats in this region, the Congress got 13, while Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party won 2 seats here.
All in all, the Amit Shah & Co seem to have designed the strategy like this – limit Patidar agitation as much as it could be, woo a maximum number of OBC voters. This could be the formula that might still win the BJP more than 150 seats.