A man holds election campaign material of the BJP and the Indian National Congress party in 2018. Photo: AFP / Noah Seelam

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The political parties with a predilection of vote capital have started campaigning for the general elections this year. The hawk eye is to remain on North belt, but states like Gujarat are not to be undermined.

The home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah has experienced an unexpected swing in the recent assembly elections which certainly came as a shocker for the ruling right wing.

The BJP lost 16 seats while Indian National Congress gained 20 seats. The rise of opposition Congress party pushed the BJP to revamp its strategy towards specific communities, especially the Patidars (Indian Hindu caste found mostly in Gujarat).

Hardik Patel, leader of the Patidar community did not agree with Nitin Patel, Gujarat’s deputy chief minister and a Patidar stalwart, hence the idea of pulling Patidars towards BJP collapsed. Hardik Patel, in the wake of the Maharashtra government granting reservation to Marathas (Indian caste in Maharashtra) channelized hope among the Patidar community towards getting reservation in education and jobs.

Patidar politics

The Gujarat politics is now at the zero-sum juncture. The Patidar reservation movement which was earlier expected to be a poll agenda has an insignificant role to play today.

The Patel community, with a 15% population, is scattered among different parties.

The induction of Patel into Congress may not affect the party’s vote share with just the Patidar agitation issue. Patel will have to mobilize voters on issues other than the Patidar reservation.

Statistics emanating from Assembly Elections 2017 show that Gujarat’s Surat which saw strong Patidar protests managed to secure only Mandvi, one non-BJP seat, out of sixteen constituencies.

Rajkot followed the same trend. The Congress secured only one seat of Dhoraji, while other seven seats went to BJP. Also, the vote margin remained high.

Congress should not give priority to only caste based politics ahead of India’s crucial election as it may not help.

Following the 2017 Assembly Elections, the dynamics of Gujarat politics has experienced a significant upheaval. The people who earlier used to remain un-influenced regarding national issues are now alarmed about un-employment, tax regime and national security.

This may provide anti-BJP sections an open opportunity to hit at Modi government and address its failures.

Revitalize Congress structure

According to a trend observed during the Assembly Elections, most urban seats went to BJP. One may observe that the urban population of Gujarat is highly pro-Hindutva.

Real issues like the agrarian crisis seemed to affect the urban people very loosely. Highly dependent on Gujarati media which are mostly pro-BJP, the urban class may not be deeply connected to the real issues of the state. While in rural Gujarat farmers are more aware of the state’s real problem like the agrarian distress.

This gives the Congress and other non-BJP parties time and opportunity to revamp their urban campaign strategies. The Congress has demonstrated its willingness to revitalize its party structure in Gujarat, including fielding local leaders for the upcoming elections.

The party has already managed to field local unit’s president Prashant Patel from Vadodara. Modi may also contest the election from Vadodara but Congress’ move to put a hardworking local leader against Modi is a political strategy and reform. This may also boost the party cadre.

Non-BJP sections currently have a poor state level leadership compared to BJP. Due to BJP’s presence in Gujarat since two decades, they have cultivated leaders who can easily connect with the voters, something which non-BJP parties fall back in.

The BJP had won all 26 parliamentary seats in Gujarat in 2014, while the Congress had lost 11 seats with an alarming fall in their vote share. But if we draw a parallel line against 2017 elections, chances are the Congress may be able to score if it plays its cards right.

Gujarat bastion a tough win

Congress’ central leadership from Gujarat with leaders like Ahmed Patel and Madhusudan Mistry should be concerned about the home state otherwise the Gujarat bastion will be a difficult to win. The party’s decision to send Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress president Rahul Gandh’s sister, to east Uttar Pradesh to garner votes is dramatic and not tightly planned.

Vadra, who chose Gujarat to deliver her speech as the general secretary of the party might have better influence in Gujarat than Purvanchal, a geographic region of northern India which comprises of eastern end of Uttar Pradesh and the western end of Bihar.

The recent assembly elections in Gujarat narrated a new political paradigm. With the rise of Chotubhai Vasava’s Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), the neglected tribals have a new voice now. Ketanbhai Inamdar, one of independent MLAs joined the BJP after Congress’ reluctance. Shift of independent leaders like Inamdar towards BJP should make the non-BJP parties worried.

More recently, two Congress party MLAs tendered their resignations. One of them joined the ruling BJP later in the day while the other announced his decision to join the saffron party soon.

Manavadar MLA Jawahar Chavda gave his resignation to Gujarat Assembly Speaker Rajendra Trivedi on March 8, while Parsotam Sabariya, who represented Dhrangadhra seat in Morbi district, gave his resignation in the evening.

INC should work towards pre-poll alliance in Gujarat if it wants favorable results. The non-BJP parties should also keep in mind that only inclusive politics can dethrone divisive politics in the state.

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