Dalits May Take Centrestage in Gujarat Polity

hardik Patel

By Sunil Dang

In 1981, the Government of Gujarat headed by the chief minister Madhav Singh Solanki, introduced the reservation for socially and economically backward classes, which was based on recommendations of the Bakshi Commission. It resulted in anti-reservation agitation across the state, which spilled over in riots resulting in more than hundred deaths. Solanki resigned in 1985 but later returned to power winning 149 out of 182 assembly seats. He was supported by Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslims; called collectively as KHAM formula. It resulted in other communities losing the political influence. However, this winning formula of Congress veteran helped BJP to get a loyal forward caste vote bank comprising Patidar, Brahmin and Baniya who constitute around 25 percent of the net voters in Gujarat.

If this KHAM formula had some good thing to offer, it had some side effects too. During Madhav Singh Solanki leadership in Gujarat, castes falling under KHAM were too much pampered which made these castes autocratic. They started misbehaving with forward castes mentioned above; especially Kshatriya was brutal towards Patidars and Dalits which helped BJP to dent into Congress strong hold in Central and South Gujarat. Otherwise with the help of Forward Caste vote bank, BJP was restricted to Kachch and Saurashtra region. When the ‘party with difference’ came into power corridors of Gujarat, they too pampered the Forward Caste, especially Patidars for nearly two decades.

Hence, the Gujarat verdict on December 18th has significance. After emergence of Hardik Patel in the backdrop of Patidar movement, Congress is hoping to get some share of traditional Patidar votes of BJP means negative swing favoring Congress. By attracting OBC leader Alpesh Thakore and Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani, it seems that Congress poll planners are well aware that it would be difficult for them to attract Patidar votes the way BJP is used to. Both Congress and BJP area busy wooing Dalits and OBCs because they know Patels have never asked for reservation before. To get reservation, one has to apply as a ‘lower caste’. They have never considered themselves a lower caste.

Therefore, when the EVM machine gets opened on December 18, not only the Gujarat results will be out, it would also indicate towards whom the Dalit and OBC support has gone because till last polls, it was BJP which used to get majority of OBC and Dalit votes. If the Congress party is able to improve its tally (if not win the Gujarat Polls), it would indicate that it could muster support of the Patidar to some extent but not the OBC and Dalit votes as it is expecting from Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mewani. Even if the BJP manages to maintain its tally in Gujarat Polls if not the magic 150 which Amit Shah has been chanting, it would be interesting to see how much seats it has got in Northern, Southern and Central Gujarat. Any increase in its tally from the previous assembly would be an indication that it has consolidated its base among the OBC and Dalit vote bank and Alpesh and Jignesh have only polished their images by sitting alongside Rahul Gandhi. Any slip in BJP’s tally from existing 112 would be an indication that BJP’s expectation that its reservation denial to Patidars would consolidate OBC and Dalit votes has failed to work. However, one thing is for sure in any of the above mentioned poll verdicts, Patidars won’t remain the fulcrum of the Gujarat politics and they would be replaced by OBCs and Dalits in coming 2019 Lok Sabha polls. If Congress gets majority, we should be prepared to see an OBC or a Dalit face as CM or Gujarat State Congress President with Ahmed Patel sticking to his same role, which he has been performing since Sonia Gandhi took over the reins from Sitaram Kesri. Similarly, if BJP wins, the ‘party with difference’ may get tempted to have a Dalit face in the seat of State President because they can’t change their CM immediately. But, they may bring in an OBC or Dalit to replace Vijay Rupani before 2019 Lok Sabha Polls.

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