Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Navsarjan Gujarat? Assembly elections saw Dalit-Adivasi-Muslim "anger" against BJP, some visible, some silent

By Martin Macwan*
Elections in Gujarat may be over, yet Navsarjan (resurgence, a term used by Congress during its electoral campaign) for Congress, and worries for BJP, appear to be far from over. Fighting as representatives of deprived communities, Alpesh Thakor, the well-known OBC leader who joined Congress ahead of the just-concluded Assembly polls, and Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani, fighting as Congress-backed Independent, won with comfortable margin, despite aggressive and low level of campaign that the BJP undertook to defeat both.
Despite its tall claims of getting 150 seats, the BJP had to be content with less than 100 seats, even though it successfully ensured defection of 14 Congress MLAs during the Rajya Sabha elections this August. The operation is said to have been carried out by former BJP leader Shankarsinh Vaghela, who crossed over to Congress in late 1990s after splitting BJP in 1996. BJP hoped, Vaghela's influence would work, but it was unsuccessful. Several of these defectors contested this time on BJP symbol, but lost.
While it will take some time to ascertain the voter base lost by the BJP, the fact is, the Congress has snatched away 27 seats which were previously with the BJP, and the Congress, has lost 8 seats to the BJP.
Gujarat Assembly has 13 reserved seats for Scheduled Castes (SC) of which 10 were with the BJP in 2012. Congress has double its tally of SC reserved seats from 3 to 6. Indeed, BJP paid a price for the wounds it afflicted on Dalits, especially after the public flogging of Dalit youths at Una on July 11, 2016. Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, claiming to be a Dalit leader, unsuccessfully tried to help the BJP by describing Una as ‘not-so-serious’ incident. Yet, less than 7% Gujarat's Dalit population has made a visible political statement.
Notably, two BJP ministers on SC reserved seats -- Ramanlal Vora and and Atmaram Parmar -- lost as there was strong Dalit protest against them for ignoring Dalit interests and harassing Navsarjan Trust, the largest organization in Gujarat working on Dalit rights.
Gujarat Assembly has 26 reserved seats for Scheduled Tribes (STs). In 2012 Congress won 16, while the BJP won 9. One seat went to Chhotubhai Vasava contesting from undivided the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U). Vasava played the trumpcard during the crucial Rajya Sabha polls in August -- his sole vote ensured the victory of Congress leader Ahmed Patel after a whopping 14 MLAs left the Congress.
During the Assembly polls, the Congress allied with Vasava, who is no more with JD(U). This alliance helped Congress+ to increase its tally to 18, with the BJP losing two seats. There has been some change, too. Both the Congress and the BJP lost two of their previously held seats.
OBC leader Alpesh Thakore joining the Congress has been a gain for the party on other seats as well. Ganiben Thakore has created a stir by defeating BJP minister Shakersinh Choudhry. His Thakore Sena played an important role in helping Jignesh Mevani to win. Thakore votes have also helped the Congress win some other seats as well.
Patidar leader Hardik Patel has been able to make lesser impact. In Surat, where his roadshows were impressive, there has been no change, as all the seats have gone to the BJP. Some marginal impact can be seen in Saurashtra, though.
Though Muslims constitute about 8.5 percent population in Gujarat, the BJP maintained its tradition of not giving a single seat to them. It was looking for the slightest opportunity to trap the Congress with minority appeasement. The Congress stayed away from mentioning Muslims, but gave them five seats, one less than last time. Muslims have won three seats, a significant representation after a very long time.
The election campaign in Gujarat was launched accidentally with the slogan which went viral ‘vikas gando thayo chhe’ (development has gone crazy). Although it subdued after some time, it left the BJP speechless with little option but to officially defend "vikas. However, it was not successful in focusing its campaign on development and sidetracked to non-issues. There was uneasy calm that both the Congress and the BJP failed to sense. It was anger.
There was Dalit anger that was quite visible. There was Adivasi anger that was silent, and there was Muslim anger that was ignored. It was this Muslim-Adivasi-Dalit (MAD) factor that frustrated the BJP. It is a modified incarnation of the KHAM theory, floated in mid-1980s by the Congress, which created an alliance of Kshatiyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims.
Has Gujarat become a model for Navsarjan for India? One has to wait and see...
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*Founder, Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad

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