Caste to Dominate Gujarat Assembly 2017 Elections as Nominations for the First Phase Closes

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As nominations were filed for the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections for 89 seats, with 1073 candidates in the fray. Hardik Patel joined hands with Congress ahead of upcoming elections, the BJP accused Rahul Gandhi of making the reservation a poll issue. Which way the electorate would go, asks Navodita, our Associate Editor, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

As nominations were filed for the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections for 89 seats 1073 candidates Tuesday a number of candidates seemed to be in for the brawl – Congress (196), BJP (193), BSP (87), CPI (1) and CPM (2). A total of 788 independent candidates have filed nomination forms in the first phase. Chief Electoral Officer BB Swain told media persons that the scrutiny process of the nomination firms was ongoing and that the maximum nominations were received from Limabayat constituency in Surat, which was 42, while the least was from Gandevi constituency in Navsari that got five nominations from candidates.

Minutes after Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel joined hands with Congress ahead of upcoming elections, the BJP accused Rahul Gandhi of making the reservation a poll issue with Hardik claiming the Congress was behind the Patidar quota stir in Gujarat and was trying to mislead the people of Gujarat by such activities.

Reacting to this Congress leader Kapil Sibal told the media that Gujarat has been misled under the BJP for the past 22 years. He added that it is important to work together and that the BJP does not follow the Constitution. Questioning the BJP strategy he said that Patidars had not benefitted from the BJP sarkar (government) in the state in the last few years.

Hardik Patel, however, showed no signs of relenting and replied to the BJP by tweeting, “Main rajniti karne nahin adhikar maanganey bahar ayaa hoon. 23 saal ka hoon, 14 saal jail mein daal dogey koi fark nahin padta, bahar aaoonga to 37 ka ho jaaoonga, fir bhi yuva kehlaoonga aur adhikaar maanganey ke liye kaam par lag jaaoonga.” (I haven’t come out to do politics but to demand for rights. I am 23 years old, after 14 years of imprisonment, too, it won’t matter, I will be released and will be 37, will still be called a youth and will again start demanding for my rights).

Meanwhile, Gujarat’s Kashatriya strongman, Shankersinh Vaghela, former Chief Minister from the Congress, fielded candidates for the first phase of polling from his nascent ‘Jan Vikalp Front’. He said he would carve out special 10 percent quota for the most backward classes from within the 27 percent reservation meant for the OBCs and defer implementation of the GST (Goods and Services Tax) for a year. Ahead of the elections, he has even promised unemployment allowance for educated youth, reduction in a VAT on petrol and diesel and a secondary school in each village. The backward communities in the 10 percent category would include Koli, Thakor, Bajaniya, Yogi, Raval, Devipujak, Madari and Vagher among others.

As far as the two big parties are concerned Saurashtra and Kutch will be the main battleground. BJP has set the target of winning 150 seats and is banking heavily on this southern region. While the BJP has set its eyes on limiting the impact of Patidar agitation, Congress, on the other hand, is banking on it. Patidars have a sizable population in Saurashtra. Out of 89 seats in Saurashtra-Kutch and South Gujarat that will go to polls on December 9, BJP has fielded Patidars on 31 while Congress on 27 seats. BJP’s RS MP and Saurashtra strongman Parshottam Ropala told Ahmedabad Mirror that Patidar issue has fizzled out and Hardik and Congress stand exposed for caste-based politics. He was confident that the BJP is set to better its tally in Saurashtra.

While PM Modi will address eight rallies on November 27 and 29 in Saurashtra and south Gujarat, he will cover 48 out of 89 constituencies going to polls in the first phase. Ahead of Modi’s visit, party workers will connect with people through Mann ki Baat with tea at all the Assembly constituencies; while Congress VP Rahul Gandhi already began his visits to Dehgam, Bayad, Santabha, Lunavada, Santrampur, Maragada, and Dahod addressing meetings with his star campaigners- Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Ahmed Patel, Navjot Sidhu, Sam Pitroda, Bhupinder Hooda, Raj Babbar, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sushmita Dev.

 It seems this is going to be a tough contest for both the big parties as Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) also decided to contest this time on 100 out of 182 seats. Party’s National Secretary General K.C. Tyagi told the Times of India that they could contest around 40 seats in the first phase and more than 60 seats in the second phase; total number of seats could even rise to 110 as large number of Patidar leaders and tribal leaders, who are disgruntled with allocation of fewer seats to Hardik Patel had decided to join hands with the JD (U). Patidar community, which constitutes only around 12% of Gujarat’s population are opposed to the ruling BJP as the state government refused to accept their demand for reservation.

That the Patidar Andolan should gather such huge momentum ahead of the elections with Hardik Patel emerging as their leader seems a part of a larger game plan in the state by the Congress party. Is the stir being fuelled to garner votes or is reservation really required is the million-dollar question? In a nation where a person from the Other Backward Class, the Modh Ghanchi community can rise to the position of a democratically-elected Prime Minister, is reservation-stir for Patidars a ‘politicised’ move for a vote bank or really the need of the hour? The electoral outcome will drive home the point, which way does the electorate go – reservation or anti-reservation.

©Navodita Pande

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Navodita Pande has been practicing yoga since she was 9 years old in Iyengar Yoga. In April 1995, she performed at the International Yoga Seminar. In January 2003, Navodita taught at Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandir in New York. Navodita had a Yoga show on NDTV 24×7 and was also the official yoga trainer for Miss Delhi contestants in 2007. She currently teaches Yoga and Reiki to
people in Kanpur.