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"OBC-isation" of BJP, rise of OBC neo-middle class in Gujarat: Trends Congress can ignore at its own peril

Voting percentage 2012: Congress
By Rajiv Shah
A fresh study by top French scholar Christophe Jaffrelot should serve as a warning signal to those who believe the BJP would "lose" the 2017 Gujarat state assembly elections. Basing on shifting Other Backward Class (OBC) voter base data compiled by him, Jaffrelot believes, despite a little erosion in the BJP’s middle class upper caste base, there has been a clear “OBC-isation of BJP”, suggesting a new political trend in Gujarat.
Pointing to the formation of a ‘neo-middle class’ consisting of OBC migrants in urban and semi-urban areas, his paper “What ‘Gujarat Model’?: Growth without Development – and with Socio-Political Polarisation” says that the BJP was “traditionally associated with upper castes and Patels”, but things changed in 2012 assembly elections when it played caste politics.
Fighting the elections under Narendra Modi, according to the expert, in 2012 polls, the “main achievement” of the BJP came from the inroads the BJP made in the traditional OBC vote-banks of the Congress, “Kshatriyas and, even more, the Koli.” There is reason to be believe, as the recent events of Patidar agitation and regrouping of OBCs suggest, the trend may continue seven sans Modi.
Voting percentage 2012: BJP
Giving figures, Jaffrelot says, “A majority of voters from these two groups supported the BJP. Kolis in particular massively abandoned the Congress (down 13 per cent) and rallied to the BJP (up 11 per cent). As a result, Modi’s party became almost as popular among OBCs as among savarnas (upper castes).”
Caste politics, says the study, “appeared increasingly necessary for Modi as, by the end of his second term (2007), he had to face two parties associated with caste groups: on the one hand, the Congress continued to have the largest number of OBC leaders, and on the other hand, Keshubhai Patel, a former chief minister, had started his own Patel- dominated party, the Gujarat Parivartan Party.”
Published in Routledge’s “South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies”, Jaffrelot’s study says, Modi knew that this social engineering was necessary because of another major reason: “While the BJP relied on its middle-class electoral basis in Gujarat, its leaders knew that this would not be sufficient to stay in office after the 2002 post-pogrom victory.” Specialising on South Asia, Jaffrelot is currently with the Centre for Studies in International Relations (CERI), Paris.
Voting percentage 2012: Congress
Already, according to Jaffrelot, in 2004, the party was “defeated in the Lok Sabha elections partly because its slogan, ‘Shining India’, made sense only to the middle class. Modi therefore tried to enlarge the electoral basis of the BJP in Gujarat.”
Underlines Jaffrelot, “This is a clear indication of the impact of urbanisation that affects more or less all OBC caste groups, so much so that the only constituencies in which the Congress could prevail against the BJP were the rural ones.”
Pointing towards how this social engineering worked in 2012, Jaffrelot says, “While Kolis living in villages still heavily supported the Congress, those who resided in semi-urban and urban areas moved towards the BJP. In rural constituencies, 53.5 percent of Kolis voted for the Congress, while only 18.5 percent of them did so in semi-rural constituencies, where 65.2 percent of them supported the BJP.”
He adds, “The more urbanised voters were, the weaker the Congress was, as evidenced by its performance in 2012: it received 45.7 percent of valid votes in rural seats compared to 32.2 percent in semi-urban ones and only 27.5 percent in towns and cities”, adding, “The relationship was equally linear on the BJP side, but in the reverse order of 43.3 percent rural to 50.8 percent semi-urban and 57.7 percent urban.”
Voting percentage 2012: BJP
Pointing out that “the way OBCs have rallied around the BJP in semi-urban and urban areas remains to be explained”, Jaffrelot, nevertheless insists, “These urban OBCs are mostly former peasants who have migrated to the city or who have been incorporated into the rapid process of urbanisation that Gujarat has been undergoing (with 43 percent of its population considered as ‘urban’, Gujarat stood 11 percent above the Indian average).”
Believes Jaffrelot, the OBCs’ “joining the middle-class category” is related to their “ceasing work in the fields to start working in factories, sweatshops of the informal sector, or in the service sector as chaiwalas, or as drivers – if not as proper clerks.”
Jaffrelot says, “They may not earn much more than before, since wages are very low in Gujarat, but at least they now have a job (since the unemployment rate is also very low) – and they have some hope for a brighter future.” At the same time, this group “is imbued with forms of intense Hindu religiosity.”
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Download Christophe Jaffrelot's paper HERE

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