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Gujarat Election: OVERBLOWN CASTE POLITICS, By Dr. S. Saraswathi, 8 December 2017 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 8 December 2017

Gujarat Election


By Dr. S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


The Congress’s election manifesto for Gujarat’s election promises special category quota for Patidars along-with several concessions like loan waiver for farmers, cheaper fuel, unemployment allowance for youth, etc.   With Patidars assuming centre stage conceded to them, a question might arise over the status of other Backward Classes in a poll whereby the caste factor is overblown.


Undoubtedly, the State is in the throes of the most bitter election fights as it is Prime Minister Modi’s home State. For the BJP which has been ruling therein for over two decades, it is prestigious and a political necessity to retain hold.  For the Congress, a victory will help wipe off and forget its defeats in recent years thereby opening a new chapter as if nothing had happened. Indeed, an auspicious beginning for new President Rahul Gandhi!


Naturally, the entire democratic world is closely watching Party alignments, campaigning   and Assembly results for the 182 seats. Modi has described the contest as one between Vikas (development), Vishwas (trust) and Vanshwad (dynasty).

Besides, the Congress cannot depend on the “anti-incumbency” factor alone to dislodge the BJP because of the growing popularity of the Hindutva Brigade and “son of the soil” NaMo and Gujarat’s pride.


Pertinently, it is almost a direct two-Party contest wherein all others have been silenced by the noise created by the BJP and Congress. Their respective principal central leaders play the main role in electioneering, conducting rallies and road shows is a strategy adopted by both Parties not so much to mobilize votes as to exhibit the size of mass support and popularity. 


This election has also highlighted the importance of the Patidars and its leader Hardik Patel as its key person though it constitutes not more than 10 to 11% of the population based on the last caste census in 1931. Notably, this is dominating election news.


Consequently, the caste factor in elections, somewhat subsiding in southern States , has  become vigorous and got a fresh lease of life with aggressive posturing.  Media reports on candidates selection by the BJP-Congress mention the number of Patidars and OBCs included in the candidates list as if caste alone matters in legislative work.


The Congress lists the number of Kshatriya ,Thakor Sena, OBC,  ST (OSS) Ekta Manch,  and  Thakor.  However, in some areas the problems  in agriculture and  powerloom  factories  will play a bigger role than the Pattidar facto, notwithstanding the poll outcome remains a suspense.


Importantly, the Patidars’ inconsistent stand wavering between the two Parties ultimately resulting in an alliance with the Congress is a social rather than political and cannot be taken as the decisive factor in winning the election.  There are reports that older Patidars are inclined to retain their trust in the BJP. The youngsters in the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti are in favour of trying their luck by sailing with the Congress under the leadership of 24-years old Hardik Patel.    


At the same time, the BJP seeks to consolidate smaller castes and fringe groups like Choudary, Koli, Prajapati and Brahmin in North Gujarat. There are a number of OBCs apart from Patidars with strong voting strength in particular areas to nullify the effect of appeasing  Patidars  beyond a point.


Clearly, politics and politicians will not allow the decline of the pernicious caste system or even its exit from politics.  But, most castes in all States do not show political solidarity whereby many of them get split on political  loyalty to any leader(s).   


The Patidars are not an exception to this phenomenon.  According to many studies, they do not vote as a homogeneous group and hence are not a united vote bank. Also, there are two major groups within them who are politically not united.


Significantly, Gujarat’s Archbishop reportedly made an appeal to Christians for voting --- a move allowing religion into politics.


Among non-caste factors, several non-issues have become matters on which people’s votes or support is not required, but expected. Evidently, they are into the sway of emotions to guide and direct the voting pattern thanks to a political-social media war in full swing. 


Reports suggest that both the Congress and BJP have formed teams to prepare material for circulation through instant media.  Networks like Twitter and Facebook have taken the place of personal contacts and door-to-door canvassing.  


Emotional attacks target leaders whereby their personal data, though not relevant for politics, becomes the subject matter for public consumption and debate thereby diverting attention of the BJP away from “development”.


The Opposition’s reference to Gujarat’s model of development as the “Modi Model” and crony capitalism is not a sustained campaign but  overtakenby personal comments.  Even the Congress’s attack of demonetization and GST --- two crucial economic issues ---have become passing references quickly overtaken by crude personal comments.


Hence, the religion of some leaders is a point of dispute and visits to temples an election issue. BJP’s Amit  Shah’s Jain ancestry and Rahul’s  Catholic links, whatever might be the truth  and however irrelevant are presented as points for consideration of voters.


Notably, Rahul has visited over 20 temples till date during his election campaign.  Whether it is to stress his Hindu background to impress Hindu voters who were so far ignored as a policy under secularism or to invoke the blessings of Hindu Gods is anybody’s guess. 


On the flip side, the BJP reminds voters of Nehru not being in favour of the Somnath temple’s reconstruction after Independence thereby touching a highly sentimental matter.


Moreover, election speeches sometimes contain a bundle of lies and promises which cannot be fulfilled or are beyond the power of the State Government.   The reservation formula agreed between the Congress and Patidars at one stage mentioned 50% reservation for them which under the 49% ceiling placed by the Supreme Court leaves nothing for other backward classes and is unlawful.   


Nonetheless, the manifesto released by the Congress mentions only a “special category quota” without violating the 49% limit for SCs, STs and OBCs.  But, some sections of the Patidars ask for reservation on the pattern prevailing in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka  which goes beyond the Mandal  formula and inclusion of it in the Constitution’s Ninth Schedule which is immune from scrutiny by the Court.


Succinctly, the Gujarat election has exposed the extent to which caste sentiments can be exploited in the same way as some countermanded by-elections in Tamil Nadu exposed the extent of corruption and politics of cash-for-votes.  Both are political diseases that have spread in society. 


Thus, the atmosphere is such that everybody in the poll field is dragged into the politics of creating personalized issues, fomenting groupism and indulging in smear politics. Perhaps this is one strong reason for the undisputed growth of dynastic politics which leaves politics to families already neck deep in the mire. In sum, the immediate task before the nation is to cleanse electoral politics. ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)





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