As the Gujarat elections are nearing, the blame game too has gone bad to worst between Congress and BJP. Indian’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is BJP’s campaigner, has crossed all the boundaries of attack from Indira Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi; this time Modi was at his nastiest by using all sorts of adjectives for Gandhi family. Controverting Rahul Gandhi’s relentless ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ (GST) jibes, Modi heaped accusation on him stating that only those who have looted the country for 70 years can think of dacoits. Modi even labelled Congress’ GST demand for 18 per cent uniform tax as a ‘Grand Stupid Thought’ and said the party has become a liability on the nation as it has always thrived on dynasty, corruption and casteism. Later in Navsari, he poked fun at Tuesday’s Sholay-style protests by stating that they are remembering Gabbar Singh, we remember Sardar Patel. It depends on whom one wants to relate with. A couple of hours later, Rahul Gandhi hit back at Modi in Visavadar saying Congress had insisted on uniform 18 per cent GST, but opposed taxing all items consumed by the poor tooth and nail. However, he stuck to the Gabbar Singh jibe and said, “Just the way Gabbar Singh carried out dacoities at 12 midnight, the same way you implemented GST at midnight.” Anyways, Indian politics and politicians are not to be understood. No sensible person ever becomes part of it.
Looking at the present scenario we need to understand that Gujarat politics is far more than Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel, and Alpesh Thakor or Rahul Gandhi. BJP will not easily let go or lose here. They are taking no risk, their efforts are made to sustain. The Congress is leaderless in Gujarat. A possible face for CM candidate of the Congress is Bharatsinh Solanki because of his father Madhav Singh Solanki (Four times CM of Gujarat and former External Affairs Minister of India). Solanki himself was a Minister in UPA-2 government. He is considered to be close to Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel camp. The next big face of the Congress is Shaktisinh Gohil. Ideally, this man deserves more than what he has been offered so far from the party. He is a very good speaker and arguably the best speaker of INC Gujarat. Recently he was in the news when he challenged two votes in recently held Gujarat Rayja Sabha elections and helped Ahmed Patel win the election. Despite the facts, he has been ignored by the Congress. The rumours are that he is going to fight the elections against Jitu Vaghani-the President of BJP Gujarat. Though Shaktisinh defeated Jitu Vaghani in 2007 when he later fought his first election, in 2012 election Jitu Vaghani won the election by the largest margin in whole Saurashtra Region. So again Shaktisinh has been allocated the seat where he will face a Patidar Giant, Jitu Vaghani. Shankersinh Vaghela was the latest stalwart resigned from the Congress. He was known in Gujarat as the front-runner for CM candidate of the Congress, but Bharatsinh and Ahmed Patel camp are said to have opposed this. So Bapu has formed the third front mainly to weaken the Congress.
In between, soon after the Patidar Andolan, Alpesh Thakor founded the OSS (OBC, ST, SC) Ekta Manch mainly to oppose the move to include Patidars in OBC category. He has joined the Congress recently. This move has upset many open category organisations. It should be noted that Alpesh Thakor and his father both were Congress supporters even before agitation. But Congress wanted 51 per cent share of OBC category and went ahead. On the other hand many Patidar Andolan leaders left Hardik Patel due to his arrogant behaviour, and separate movements are being run for the same cause but by the different leaders. He was barred from entering Gujarat for six months by the high court in the sedition case. Hardik indirectly supports the Congress though he has denied joining with. So the inclusion of Hardik in the Congress as an indirect force has not gone well with other communities. It should be noted here that both Alpesh Thakor and Hardik Patel are coming from a city/village-Viramgam.
The Open Category is the main supporters of the BJP. The argument is rather simple that the Congress introduced the Reservation system then how can they support in their fight against reservation. Many Patidars are still in dilemma over this element. This will be the First Election since 2002 when Modi will not be the CM candidate of Gujarat. It can be said that Modi was single-handedly winning the elections for the BJP. So the most loved son of Gujarat will surely be missed as far as BJP is concerned. Moreover Amit Shah also will not be there. Vijay Rupani was chosen as the CM after Anandiben resigned. He has a clean image and hails from a Jain community. So both Patidars and OSS couldn’t fight over his appointment. But the fact is that he is very weak compared to Modi and is said to be acting on advice from the Centre only. Arrogance of local BJP leaders has tarnished BJP; many BJP leaders after successive assembly wins have become arrogant. The workers not being answered properly by elected members.
After Patidar agitation, many other communities were furious over violence and Bandhs called by the Patidars. Anandiben Patel was accused of not taking appropriate actions as she is a Patidar and she had to resign after such allegations. Many cases were registered against Patidars for violence in which several Patidars and Police personnel lost their lives. But the BJP government dropped charges against the Patidars a few days back. This hasn’t gone well with other communities. The Government is accused of appeasing the Patidars. The move is also criticised for disheartening the Police force. Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor, and Jignesh Mevani have political aspirations whether they admit or not. There is enough evidence which prove their earlier political inclination. Although a few but their respective community persons have accepted them as their leaders. The OBC front will be deciding factor over almost 70 seats out of 182. Patidars will have their say in North Gujarat and Saurashtra region. The BJP will be hopeful of the Vote bank division as it will be advantageous to them. Despite all the facts, BJP might edge Congress by few seats. Talk about the Gujarat development and Gujarat Model as long as you want but ultimately caste-politics will override development agenda at the time of elections. Two things are clear after a fortnight on the campaign trail: One, both parties are confident in public and confused in private. Two, Hindutva is getting replaced with caste identity, depriving the BJP of its biggest weapon.
Surat textile businessmen have always supported the BJP. Most of these businessmen have evaded the tax and became rich. But after GST, the textile is under 5 per cent slab of GST. Losing crores of rupees is not what any businessmen will want. So the vote bank of these people will surely swing. The BJP keeps floating trial balloons in the political stratosphere filled with its favourite poll cocktail. It keeps talking about Rohingya, Kashmir, Pakistan and giving Gujarat a curfew-free life, as Shah claimed this past week in Navsari near Surat. At its election rallies, songs talking of a Hindutva surge are played on loop.
The Congress, for a change, has smartly stayed away from the Hindutva debate. Its leader Rahul has tried to neutralise the party’s pro-Muslim tag by visiting temples, invoking the name of Lord Shiva, appearing in public with vermilion dots on his forehead and not referring to Godhra or Gujarat riots. The focus has been on the economy, unemployment and aspirations of Dalits, Patidars and other caste groups. The strategy has, so far, succeeded in keeping the narrative away from the traditional communal fault lines. All this, juxtaposed with 22 years of anti-incumbency, slowdown in the economy and quota stirs, has confounded the BJP.
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