Gujarat Elections: Adivasis and Dalits Likely to Bail Out the BJP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his campaign in Gujarat on Monday. Party cadre believes his whirlwind tour of the state will give a fillip to BJP’s fortunes and end the debate on who is winning Gujarat once and for all.
Even though print, electronic and social media indicate that the Congress will be giving a tough fight to the BJP, opinion polls predict an easy win for the incumbent party, similar to the 2012 victory, despite the Patidar and Dalit agitation.
BJP to be Hit by Decline in Patidar Support
While the Axis-India Today survey has predicted 120 seats, the CSDS-ABP News forecast has claimed that the BJP will win 117 seats. The Axis survey has further made an assertion that the BJP will maintain its historical vote share lead of 10 percent over the Congress, while CSDS claims it will come down to six percent.
This is not surprising, considering that the Patels have been at odds with the BJP government since long, demanding reservations for the community. In fact, a group led by Hardik Patel has already declared support for the Congress party.
As per the Axis-India Today survey, BJP can lose 43 percent support among the Kadwa, and 25 percent support among the Leuva Patels vis-a-vis 2012 elections. According to the CSDS-ABP News survey, BJP’s lead over Congress among Patel voters is expected to decline from 65 percent in 2012 to 20 percent in 2017. BJP is also likely to lose support among the Kolis and OBC Kshatriyas due to the efforts of the Congress to revive its traditional KHAM alliance.
Loss in Vote Share
The party is also likely to lose support among the Muslims, which is fairly natural, given the current national political dynamics. (Muslim support for the BJP is amongst the highest in Gujarat, 20 percent in 2012 elections).
However, support for the BJP is intact among the upper caste and OBCs. The loss of votes among the Patidars, Kolis, OBC Kshatriyas and Muslims is expected to result in a loss of 10-11 percent vote share for the BJP, thus eliminating traditional factors that have been behind the party’s lead over the Congress.
‘Adivasi’ Factor Will Work for the BJP
This leads us to a bigger question. If the BJP is losing support among some of its key voting segments, how is it managing to still win, as is being revealed in the surveys?
BJP is gaining significantly among the Scheduled Tribe voters (Adivasis) who have been traditional supporters of the Congress.
While Congress was leading with 14 percent among the Adivasis in 2012, the CSDS survey has predicted that BJP will be leading with 18 percent this time.
Among the Dalits too, BJP has managed to close the gap with Congress despite the Una incident, Jignesh Mevani-led protests and his support for the Congress party. The lead of 42 percent in 2012 is expected to reduce to eight percent as per the CSDS survey.
This better show among the SCs and STs, which is likely to compensate for the loss among the Patidars and Kolis to some extent. From these two segments, BJP will gain five-six percent vote share, thus leading Congress by six percent on an overall basis, as per the CSDS survey.
Social Engineering at Play
Despite the decline in support among anchor voting segments, BJP seems to be in victor’s position as it has further expanded party’s base through social engineering.
This is in line with the national trend of Dalits considering BJP as an option after the decline of Mayawati’s BSP. In 2014, BJP received the highest support among the Dalits with the party recording 24 percent vote share. 13 seats are reserved for SCs in Gujarat.
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Shift in Adivasis’ Vote Due to Threat from Patidars
The RSS has been silently doing a lot of work amongst the Adivasis. The RSS, through its Vanvasi Kalyan Kendras, has been trying to gain ground in Adivasi areas of central and south Gujarat where Congress has a very old support base. It has been running many shishu mandirs, hospitals, and carrying out social work which seem to have helped the BJP.
The other thing which has caused this shift, assuming polls are true, is the fact that they feel threatened by the Patidars joining the Congress alliance.
The Dalits as well as Advisasis were at the receiving end of violence unleashed by Patidars against the reservation policy of Madhavsinh Solnaki-led Congress government in the 1980s. Patidar violence was also directed at the Muslims during the riots in 1985.
Forging an Alliance Not Enough for Congress
To conclude, while Congress has managed to make a dent in the BJP camp, it seems that the party has not been able to keep its flock together, hence losing the gains made through acquisitions. Congress has failed to manage the contradictions in its ambitious social alliance. It needs to take a cue from the BJP, which has mastered the art as was displayed in the Uttar Pradesh elections.
The Adivasis have turned out to be the saviour for BJP, as per both the surveys. If BJP wins, this will be the biggest story of Gujarat 2017 elections.
(Amitabh Tiwari is an ex-corporate and investment banker turned political consultant and commentator. He can be reached @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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