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Dalit, Patel issues major concern for BJP in Gujarat

BJP chief Amit Shah’s call to win 150 of the 182 Assembly seats in Gujarat might not be cakewalk as the Dalit and Patel issues are becoming a major cause of concern for the party. Moreover, there have been reports of serious infighting between the former chief minister Anandibhen Patel and her successor Vijay Rupani’s camps over distribution of tickets. Sources revealed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked the BJP chief to intervene and settle the issue at the earliest.

Even as BJP with its massive organisational strength appears to be in a much stronger wicket in the bipolar contest, the Patidar agitation and revival of attacks on Dalits have somewhat shaken the party. “This is a conspiracy against the BJP,” a senior party functionary claimed.

Over the past few months the BJP has been trying to pacify the influential Patidar community. In fact, in a bid to placate the community, the BJP government set up an inquiry commission on Tuesday to probe alleged police excesses during the 2015 Patidar quota agitation. However. BJP’s attempts to isolate the Patidar community leader Hardik Patel have so far failed and covert attempts were being made to get him on the saffron side. However, the revival of attacks on Dalits has now rattled the party as it was also trying to woo the backward communities in the state in a bid to counter Hardik Patel and his band of supporters.

There are reports that dismissal of Anandiben Patel following repeated attacks against Dalits before the Uttar Pradesh Assembly had not gone down well with her community. Sources revealed that Anandiben Patel has crossed swords with the state chief minister over distribution of tickets as she wants a large chunk to go to her candidates, particularly those belonging to Patidar community.

A senior BJP leader, who has been working in the state pointed out that the BJP’s support among the upper castes that includes Patidars, Thakurs and Rajputs “is dwindling”. Following the attacks, the Dalit votebank is also expected to shift from the party. Interestingly, the attacks on Dalits are believed to be lead by the Patels. The party “seems to have been caught in a Catch 22 situation”, a party leader said. “If we crack down on the Patels, we will lose the support of this community,” he pointed out.  Discussions are on among the top state and Central leaders on “how to tackle the situation”, he said. Despite, Mr Shah’s claim that anti-incumbency was a term “coined by hopeless people”, the issue is a major “worrying factor for us”, the party functionary argued. BJP has been in power for four consecutive terms (20 years) and is pitching for the fifth term. While the party’s main vote catcher, the charismatic Narendra Modi led the party to three consecutive electoral triumphs, his absence from state politics “threatens to hit us hard”, the leader said.

The BJP had come into power by stitching together a coalition of various communities including other backward classes (OBCs). Caste groups like Patidars, Thakurs, Rajputs spearheaded the coalition and formed the bulk of BJP’s leadership. This saffron coalition has successfully challenged the former Congress chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki’s formula of getting the Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims together under the party’s umbrella.

But if the trends from the last few years are taken into account, a sizeable section of these OBC votes are set to go against the saffron party. The Patidar and Thakur agitations, although apathetic to each other, have taken aim at the state government for rising the unemployment and an unprecedented crisis in the agrarian sector. Both these communities are dominant and affluent and command a substantial section of votes especially in the Saurashtra region (which comprises more than 60 seats in a 182-member assembly) and in central Gujarat.

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